One day at Brown Shoe Fit Company

From the desk of Paragraph Stacker Daniel P. Finney from Des Moines, Iowa.

I needed new shoes. I usually buy New Balance. Those are appropriate sneakers for middle-aged men. I’ve long outgrown shoes for style. My shoes are all function. And that’s what New Balance makes.

I usually buy my shoes at one of the sporting goods stores at the big mall in West Des Moines or one of the discount shops that sells last year’s model.

But I’ve got degenerative arthritis in my knees. There’s inflammation in my meniscus from a slip on the ice and tendinitis plagues my Achilles tendons.

My stimulus check arrived and I decided to treat myself to a higher-end model of New Balance to help me negotiate the treacherous winter.

The last time I went to the sporting goods store, the kid who helped me wasn’t even sure if they sold shoelaces. I’m not making that up. So I called Brown Shoe Fit Co. in West Des Moines.

I liked the name. I liked the idea that what they do there is sell shoes and shoe-related things like shoelaces and some socks. There wasn’t a hunting section or a sports jersey department.

There’s nothing wrong the big sporting goods company. I was just raised by people who “had a guy for that.” My parents had a plumber, an electrician, a baker and so on.

When I was a boy, there were scores of independent craftsmen who survived on the loyalty of people who were satisfied with the service and preferred dealing with the same person rather than obsessively seeking a bargain.

That reads more critical than I intend. Things change. I buy most things from Amazon except comic books. I try to support favorite businesses when I can.

This time I needed a shoe guy. I had a shoe guy when I was very young. His name was Pete. He worked at a shoe store in Park Fair Mall. I’m old enough to remember when Park Fair Mall was still a shopping hub on the northeast side.

Pete knew I only wanted one thing when I came into the store with my parents: Keds Tail Lights. They were navy blue canvas with a yellow diagonal stripe on the side and a bright red-orange circular reflector on the heel — just like the tail lights on a car.

I remember the day my parents took me to finalize the adoption. They made me dress up and wear a pair of saddle shoes. Chuck Offenburger would have been proud.

I was unimpressed. The saddle shoes were too tight and I kept complaining they hurt my feet. My parents urged me to keep quiet about my discomfort lest the Polk County judge think they were bad parents who failed to provide proper shoes.

I don’t remember how old I was, but I didn’t want to mess up the deal. I kept quiet. The judge signed off and my life as a Finney began in full.

To celebrate, we drove straight to Pete’s store and I got a new pair of Tail Lights. I don’t remember when I became too old to wear Tail Lights, but that must have been a sad day.

Since Pete, I haven’t had a regular shoe guy. I just went wherever. Sometimes I bought bargain. Sometimes I bought mid-range.

I now needed something higher end. I went to Brown Shoe Co. A man introduced himself just when I walked into the store. I worried this was going to be a hard sell.

“What can I get you?” he asked.

I told him I needed some better shoes and explained my ails. He motioned for me to come to the back of the store. The guy took off like a rabbit.

I’m an obese man living in a world designed for average sizes. I looked at the chairs, all of which had arms and narrow seats. I was in trouble, I thought. There’s no my big butt would fit in these chairs.

The salesman disappeared into the backroom. He came out with a wide bench in his arms. He set it down between a couple chairs and offered me the seat.

At that point, the guy could have sold me a pair of red stilettos with taps and bells on them. That is a smart salesman. He anticipated a customer’s need before the customer had to vocalize it. I would vote for this guy for president.

The thing is, it’s not unusual for an obese person to be noticed. But it’s exceptionally rare for an obese person to be treated humanely, with kindness and gentility. This guy did it unprompted.

He brought out several pair of more expensive New Balance, but he hit a home run on the first pair. He explained all the features to me. I tried to pay attention, but in the end, all I cared about was they were comfortable.

The salesman laced them up for me, put my old pair in a box and walked me up to the registers. I paid. I thanked him for bringing that bench out. It made my day.

I took his card. I immediately lost it, of course. But I have a new shoe guy. And I know where to find him next time.

Daniel P. Finney feels better about using a cane to walk by thinking of it as his “whacking stick.” is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester is underway. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit


  1. droll53 says:

    I like Brown Shoes as well. They helped me with inserts; and I swear by them. A great pair of inserts can fix your purchase of shoes you should not have gotten because they do not support your feet. (Next time I will buy the shoes that will work with my feet at Brown Shoes instead of trying to get by with whatever seems cost effective. 😉


  2. Kathy Larson says:

    Back when I worked every spring at a garden center (on concrete floors) I took my sore feet to our Brown’s.I have very high arches,and the saleswoman patiently brought out pair after pair of sneakers till we found a model that actually contacted the arch and was supportive.What a great store!


  3. Bringing out that bench for you, that really moved me. It’s so basic to be seen, but so rare. Thank you for sharing this.


  4. Judy Trask says:

    This article speaks volumes about customer service! Kudos to the shoe guy who saw to your needs with a keen eye. Thank You for sharing a feel good story.


  5. Bill McClellan says:

    I liked that column a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bill! You finally figured out comments. What a happy day.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Fitshoeman says:

    Daniel, should you ever need this service again we would be happy to help. We have been doing what you describe in the Greater DSM area for the past 36 years. We have been New Balance largest independent dealer in Iowa and specialize in full service. Many of our customers are referred by their physicians.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Mark Kane says:

    I wonder if Brown shoe store was once a branch of the manufacturer Brown Shoe in St. Louis. The company disappeared thirty-five years ago. I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Alicia Hall says:

    I have great memories of that shoe store in Park Fair Mall. My grandmother took me there to buy Mary Jane’s and Keds sneakers for my brother. It was a big day and we’d drive to Merle Hay Mall and go to Bishop’s Cafeteria for lunch.
    Thanks for another great story!
    I’ll definitely check out Brown’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Becky says:

    Thanks for the kind words -and supporting Browns Shoe – That’s my son 👞!!! He will be there for you in the future!!!


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