LAUREN ZUMBACH wrote for the CHICAGO TRIBUNE on AUG 16, 2019 that it’s a back-to-school tradition: a visit to the neighborhood shoe store, where employees pull out a well-worn metal foot measuring tool from under a seat to measure children’s feet, fit them with the right shoes, and send them out the door, frequently wearing the new kicks.
Generations of students have participated in the ritual. The going wisdom was that young, growing feet needed quality shoes and a careful fit. At each visit, the shoe selection process got an assist from the Brannock Device, which dates back to the 1920s and helps decide whether to go up half a size or a full size, as well as whether a narrow or wide width was required.
But as specialty shoe stores decline in number and shopping trends shift toward online ordering and big-box chains, just how essential is a professional shoe fitting? Can parents handle it themselves, or search their phones for an app that might help?
The questions take on particular relevance right now. The U.S. kids’ footwear market totaled about $10 billion last year, and roughly 30% of sales happen between July and September, during back-to-school season, according to market research firm NPD Group.
Parents like Kim Keer, 41, of West Rogers Park, seek out stores like the ones they visited as tykes with their own parents. Keer has taken her daughter, Mila Brill, to Alamo Shoes in Andersonville since the 4-year-old was a baby. Back then, she would cry when employees sized her feet with a Brannock Device. Last month, she hopped right on, then picked out a pair of rose gold sandals to wear to an upcoming wedding.
Keer said she likes the personal service at Alamo Shoes, especially when it comes to a purchase she thinks is important to get right. “You never put a kid in bad shoes,” she said.
But parents have more choices than ever. Department stores, discount chains, and sporting goods stores carry kids’ footwear. So do online retailers like Zappos and Amazon. Even the shoe brands themselves compete with the retailers that carry their products. Nike recently launched a subscription service that will ship kids new Nike and Converse shoes as often as once a month.
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