During my elementary and high school years, my shoes were purchased at Wieboldt’s on the River Forest side of Harlem and Lake. I needed new shoes frequently because not only did my feet grow swiftly but I ruined my everyday shoes playing basketball and bounce-or-fly on cement surfaces. I also often used my feet as brakes when stopping my bike.
The Oxford shoes my mother bought for me were always the same — one pair of brown shoes for everyday wear and one pair of black shoes for church and other special occasions.
I wore this style and colors until I graduated from high school.
When we entered the shoe department in Wieboldt’s, a clerk greeted us like we were old friends, knowing full well that we were buyers, especially after he saw the condition of the shoes I was wearing.
The first thing the clerk did was remove both of my shoes and slide a measuring stick under each foot and move the metal guide up to the top of each big toe.
Much to the clerk’s delight, he discovered that I needed a larger-size shoe.
My mother told the clerk the style and colors she would buy for me. The clerk then went into the back room of the department and soon emerged with two or three shoe boxes.
The clerk’s next move was to whip out a shoe horn from his back pocket and slip my foot into the shoe, and then he would do the same with the shoe on my other foot. I would stand and walk a dozen or so steps to a floor length mirror to gaze at the familiar style shoe. Both my mother and the clerk would ask me how the shoes felt, and if I could wiggle my toes. Most of the time, the first pair fit.
The next step was the fantastic X-ray machine. The clerk would tell me to step up and slide my feet into the machine. I thought this was the best part of the shoe-buying experience because when I looked down and through the viewer, I could see through the shoes and see the bones in my feet dancing around while I wiggled my fat toes. Then my mother and the clerk peered into their respective viewers until they were satisfied that the fit was a good one.
When everyone was happy, the purchase was made and we went home.
My mother was so pleased with the friendly and competent service, she bought her shoes at Wieboldt’s for many years, and even convinced my family members to do the same whenever they needed to buy shoes.
Even though most of my friends wore loafers, I stuck with the sturdy oxfords until I went to college, and then I switched to more casual shoes, but I have always kept a pair of black oxfords and a pair of brown oxfords to wear to church and for special occasions.
Wieboldt’s has been gone for many years, but to this day I have clear memories of seeing my pudgy toes wiggling inside the X-ray machine.
John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children and five grandchildren, and a retired English professor (Elmhurst College). Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn’t gotten far in 78 years.