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In 1997, I hid behind a pole watching my brother sell $100+ shoes to a girl who, by the looks of things, couldn't afford lunch. He was working on the floor at Newman's Outfitters in Cleveland, Ohio. I was visiting and was, as yet unseen, listening. 

"You work in a coffee shop? Do they have those thick rubber pads for you to walk on behind the counter? No!?" he said pursing his lips and shaking his head. She clearly needed this particular shoe with the extra padding so she wouldn't be tired and have a sore back at the end of the day … he went on to talk about other benefits of the shoes. It is this story I tell to help people understand who was the true family talent when it came to marketing. She couldn't afford bread; she bought those shoes.

… now Saturday, downtown Traverse City, local outfitter's shop, I'm listening to Mitch, who's explaining the various hiking boots to me ...

... My brother told me my last pair wouldn't last. "They're junk," he said and predicted I wouldn't get 5 years out of them with any kind of use. They lasted a decade, but only because I hardly wore them, grinding several pairs of black pumps into dust as I hiked only up the corporate ladder. And 5 years in he sewed them up for me when they came apart at the seams, getting me another 5 years of use out of them. He made me promise I would never buy such crap again, saying, "Next time would you ask me before you spend money on boots; you deserve quality shoes."

But now the right boot had come away from its sole completely. And so like I promised I avoided the shoe barn and headed for an outfitter, asking the sales guy for advice. It should keep my feet dry in puddles, I explain. Light hiking, but protect my ankles. Rats, I forgot to mention snowshoes … I've never been snowshoeing, but I could … one day. 

… it wasn't a good time to buy hiking boots … there was the fuel oil bill, the annual parking pass and of course, the bills from Christmas … but those corporate pumps aren't very useful trekking across the Boardman River walkway covered in lumpy, bumpy, treacherous ice and snow. (and useless, I'm told in snowshoes.) So here I was, the girl who couldn't afford lunch listening to Mitch talk about Gortex, and the weight of soles, which ones would break in quickly and which would be best for a gal who didn't do anything more than light hiking and crossing puddles. 

Mitch measured my feet, both of them, the only part of me which hasn't by some miracle increased in size in the last 20 years. And he had me walk up a cement mini-mountain and back down to see if my toes slid into the front. We tried a different size and style, one that is boxy in the toe--which doesn't work for everyone, he says. He sent me home with a pair of really light, comfy, ankle high boots, telling me, "they even look cool!" And just in case I had any second thoughts, I had instructions to wear them for two weeks in the house and bring them back if they don't feel right. 

I might have to go without a few lunches to afford them, well lots of lunches, but I'll bet they last a good long time. And they fit snug around my feet, supporting them. I don't think I'll need to sew up the seams in a couple years. And I just might try snowshoeing this weekend … I wonder if that girl at Newman's liked her shoes as much as I do mine … bet she felt supported too.

Read: quiet Crystal Mountain; getting out mid week on a Northern Michigan...

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Tags: boots, hiking, local, northern michigan, traverse city

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