Two Blue Shoes | Our Town | Chicago Reader

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Two Blue Shoes

A Story of Hope and Repair


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My blue shoes were kind of beat-up and scruffy-looking, but they were so comfortable I didn't want to throw them out. So when they started to fall apart, I took them to a repair shop in Old Town. When the elderly clerk told me this simple repair would cost seven dollars, I considered giving the shoes to the Salvation Army, but then I told him to go ahead. "How about a little polish? We'll make them look real nice, almost as good as new."

"How much will that cost?" I asked.

"That will be another three dollars." I hesitated for a moment, then agreed.

"Sew strap and polish," the clerk wrote on the work order. "I'll need a cash deposit from you," he told me. I exchanged three dollars for a claim check and left.

Two weeks later I returned to the store. This time a young, chubby female clerk was in charge. Poking through the stacked and ticketed brown paper bags, she asked, "How long ago did you bring your shoes in?"

"Two weeks ago," I replied.

"What did they look like?" I described them: navy blue, open toe, low wooden heels, the uppers made of woven leather straps, size eight and a half.

After about five minutes of searching, the clerk still hadn't found my shoes. Then she looked through some loose shoes in a box. She pulled out a pair of navy blue high heels.

"Are these yours?" she asked.

"No, mine have low heels, and the tops are made of woven straps. Those shoes are about three sizes too big."

"They don't seem to be here," she said.

"Are you sure you didn't lose my shoes?" I asked.

"Of course not; we never lose shoes," she said. "We'll find them. They send some of the shoes--the ones that need more work--to our downtown store, and those shoes take longer."

"But," I said, "they only needed a little sewing, they had just come apart in one place. It wasn't a big job."

"Look," the clerk responded, "I can't do anything more for you. They don't pay me very much; I'm just a clerk. They left me here alone on a Saturday! You'll have to talk to the manager on Monday."

I looked at the long line of customers that had formed behind me. "OK," I said. "I'll call the manager on Monday."

On Monday morning I called the manager. "Don't worry, baby," she said, sounding jovial and maternal. "We've got your shoes. Come on in and pick them up." So I dropped by on my way home from work. I presented my ticket and the elderly male clerk gave me a brown paper bag with my claim-check number on it.

I opened the bag in the store--just to make sure my shoes were there. At first I thought, no, those aren't my shoes. They were a darker navy blue, but even stranger, each shoe now sported a new strap and buckle across the middle. They had become Mary Janes.

"My shoes didn't have straps on them," I told the clerk.

"These aren't your shoes?"

"They're my shoes, but somebody sewed these straps and buckles on them."

"You don't like the straps?"


"OK," the clerk said, "I'll have them take the straps off. You're sure you don't want the straps?"


"Then we'll take them off."

"How long will it take to remove them?"

"Come back in a week," the clerk advised.

A week later, just before Christmas, I again returned to pick up my shoes. The tired old man who had taken my original order was there, and he remembered me. I gave him my claim ticket and he retrieved my shoes from behind the counter. I looked them over. The skinny straps and buckles were gone, thank goodness. But the shoes weren't dark blue anymore, they were jet black! And upon further inspection, I discovered that they hadn't been polished, but dyed!

After I explained this to the clerk, he said, "Yes, that's black all right."

"They were blue before."

"They were?"

I showed him a place on the inside that was still the original navy blue color. The clerk said, "Oh well, sometimes, if they can't get the polish looking nice enough, they just dye them. They just want to make the customer happy."

"Great," I replied.

The clerk offered, "We could try to remove the dye. Sometimes it works; but black is a dark color, and they have to scrape the dye off, and with these straps they'd probably break some of the straps and even then they probably wouldn't get all of the dye off." I agreed with him that removing the dye probably wouldn't work. I didn't want those people touching my shoes again. "No thanks," I said, "I think I'll take them this way."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.

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