By Debra L. Glasser, MD
A few weeks ago I found myself parked next to Lacey Shoe, a business I had given up on finding. I decided to ask if they could fix my favorite aging boots I was wearing that day.
Upon entering the shop, there was a display of remarkable rubber flip flops (much like the ones I wear for my special feet), a brand I had never seen. “It’s not just a shoe repair shop,” I thought. Peggy, the co-owner, was professional and kind although pessimistic about my boot repair. She called her husband and business partner, Paul, for a second opinion. He offered an unexpected and endless explanation of how he could fix my adorable purple boots (they agreed they were adorable and of a quality worth fixing).
Paul, the lead cobbler, couldn’t help but explain why the boots had worn out the way they did, when they should have been repaired and why. He advised me to be more proactive with other favorite shoes in the future and not wait for the season when I want to wear them like most of his clients do! As an aside, I mentioned that I only buy shoes that fit my custom orthotics from my excellent podiatrist, which sparked the start of a long, fascinating monologue about how he thinks about feet, shoes, and orthotics. . Peggy made a few comments here and there when she could.
It quickly became clear that I had stumbled upon a special place, owned by a couple who work as a team and carry special products and hold knowledge held by the few for special feet.
Paul had my full attention because I am one of those people who have special foot problems. Think flat like a pancake. Also, soon after he started sharing shoes, I realized that I was learning something to share with the community here.
Little Debbie’s flat feet
Many years ago my pediatrician took a look at my feet and recommended Mom take me to an orthopedic surgeon to be prescribed special shoes (think really ugly), shoe risers and exercises. At 12, I rebelled and refused to wear those ugly things and opted for fashion first. These days fashion is outdated (sort of) and comfort is in because those old flat feet are now really problem feet with bunion, hammer toe and arthritis; and I have to have a podiatrist on board whenever they wreak havoc on my lifestyle.
The story of Peggy and Paul
Peggy and Paul’s story with Lacey Shoe began after Paul worked 10 years doing paving and road building. He was suffering from severe back and hip pain and knew he had to do something different as soon as possible. His father was the owner of Lacey Shoe. In the winter, Paul helped in the store. However, once the unsolvable pain began, Paul focused with a sincere intention to learn the skills of the trade. He learned quickly, his father telling him that he took to shoemaking like a fish to water. After a year, he decides to fully commit to the work and after another, when his father no longer knows how to handle a hammer (an essential tool of the trade), Paul buys the business from him. He loved fixing shoes and the community obviously appreciated him because in two years he had tripled his activity.
His dad did a lot of the orthopedic work and Paul didn’t want to do it. This frightened him and he limited himself to placing elevators according to the doctors’ prescriptions. Then, one momentous day, he received a prescription for a 5/8 inch (very high) lift and realized he wanted to learn something about what was happening with the feet in a more deeper and more complete.
The response to his will came when one of his product vendors visited. At this time, Paul was still suffering from sacroiliac, back and hip pain that remained unresolved even after visits to a myriad of professional medical specialists.
After sharing his unhappy story, the salesman convinced Paul to try on the shoes the company had developed. Reluctantly, Paul agreed. During the first three days he experienced muscle tension in his legs and feet followed by a change in gait in 5 days. Within two weeks, her legs and feet felt their best in years. Then the salesman convinced him to put a medial brace in the shoe and almost immediately his sacroiliac joint “reappeared” for good and he was in no more pain!
Freed from his own pain and suffering, Paul’s special shoe and orthotics business began. It started with a few products that grew into an entire room dedicated to special feet and products to help them. The walls are lined with shoes, orthotics, a variety of sandals and even socks to help those with foot and leg issues. Like any good healthcare clinician (which, ironically, they are not “officially”), Paul and Peggy learned from their clients. Paul has a foot analysis device to assess the structure of the foot to validate for his clients what he can now assess without him after 40 years. They offer a variety of shoes and orthotics to solve foot problems of all kinds – flat to over arched, bunions and hammer toes, plantar fasciitis, uneven gait and more. His impression is that the products help up to 80% of those who want to buy and try them. He honors a 30-day refund and will only prescribe products that he and his wife have tried for themselves. He told me again that this business was born out of Paul’s own suffering and that they share a deep commitment to helping his customers.
His typical approach is to listen to a person’s concerns, examine their shoes, and assess their feet and gait. If special products are recommended, he suggests using them gently (so as not to put too much strain on the current foot structure) while the feet readjust to the new position and gait. Eventually, he works up to a more definitive brace.
He told the story of one of his loyal customers for over 30 years. When she first came for an assessment, she could barely walk a few blocks. He got her the best shoe for her feet (a nice teal color) with the definitive orthotic “just to try”. She wore them for 3 minutes and, at his insistence, walked out with the shoe and brace against his protests about starting “so aggressively”. She didn’t return until a few months later with those teal-turned-black shoes. Shocked he asked what had happened and she said she had walked 8 miles every day in New Zealand without an ounce of pain!
Paul has treated military veterans with all sorts of foot and leg issues, some who have jumped out of planes, and everything military veterans are required to do (as a former VA doctor, I say… think at the ruck steps). “It all starts with the feet,” he insists. Our feet and what we wear become increasingly important as people age. His advice to everyone, “Don’t buy crappy shoes!”
Notice to 27 year olds
I couldn’t resist mentioning my 27 year old son with particularly flat feet (these genes still do) and if he could help him. This led to a plea from Paul about how he so wished more young people and athletes could benefit from what he does earlier in life. “Ask him to bring his hiking boots,” he offered. Paul and Peggy have been doing this job for 42 years; they have more needs to take care of, so they have reduced their opening hours to three days a week, what they call semi-retirement.
Our community is lucky to have people like this company among us.
It is always essential to consult a medical professional who can assess the situation and make a diagnosis when suffering from an illness. This is the KEY and not always simple; diagnosis, like treatment, is often time consuming and a step-by-step process that is not always resolved in one or even two visits. Especially when it comes to the feet, after trying a variety of treatment plans, if relief is not there, before an invasive procedure (i.e.) could have been imagined.
Lacey Shoe Repair is located at 4219 Pacific Ave SE, Lacey, WA 98503. They are open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Debra Glasser, MD, is a retired internal medicine physician who lives in Olympia. She is always caught off guard. Have a question for her? Write to him at [email protected]