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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published February 11 2012

Halgrimson: Shoe shopping in downtown Fargo has changed through the years

In the winter I wear boots, in the summer, sandals. All of my footwear has low heels.

I quit wearing high ones when I turned 50, which was a good number of years ago.

In my youth, I bought my shoes in downtown Fargo, but as far as I can determine there are no longer any shoe stores downtown.

In those days, shoes came in many sizes – not just 4 through 10 – and narrow, medium and wide.

Shoes were often a subject for discussion in our family because neither my father, who wore a 12 AAA, nor my brother Blair, who wore a size 15 or 16, could buy shoes locally. My mother and I wore a 9½ AAA or AAAA, which we could easily find.

In the past, there were also department stores that had shoe departments that had what were called “notions” available. But it was the shoe stores that sold the attendant accessories such as socks, hosiery, purses and shoelaces all in one place.

According to the city directories for 1951 and 1962, the downtown Fargo shoe stores included Hall-Allen Shoe Co. at 107 Broadway, Emelia J. Corneliussen, proprietor; Johnson’s for Shoes at 2 Broadway, owned by J.A. Johnson; Kinney Co. Inc., 55 Broadway; May’s at 111 Broadway, owned by Lydia L. May with Victor F. Erickson as manager; Nelson’s Shoes, 517 1st Ave. N., owner John B. Nelson; R&G Bootery at 302 Broadway, owner Fred R. Green; and Dr. Scholl Foot Comfort Shop at 611 1st Ave. N., owned by chiropodists Dr. Harris R. Mark and Dr. Edgar B. Snuff.

I remember going to Dr. Snuff for treatment when I had trouble with my feet.

And in those more prudent times, there were eight shoe repair shops including Broadway Shoe Service, 512 Broadway, owned by Peter W. Norris; Eagle Shining Parlor, Hat Cleaning Shoe Repair Shop at 610 1st Ave. N., owned by Anthony Bulis; Orban’s Shoe Repair, 517 1st Ave. N., Marvin B. Smith, manager; Randy’s Shoe Service, 412 Broadway, owned by Randall Hamilton; and Shoe Hospital, 603 NP Ave., owned by John Konen.

Of course shoes were sturdier in the past and worth repairing.

When I had purchased a dress for a special occasion, I’d also buy a pair of white satin shoes to be dyed to match the dress. Tony and Maria Bullis were our neighbors on Broadway, and Maria did the dyeing at home so I’d zip through the back yard to the Bulis home to bring Maria my shoes and dress.

I still have an orange-lined sheath along with the shoes to match, although it’s been many, many years since I could wear it.

I often shopped at May’s on Broadway because manager Vic Erickson, always kind and attentive, knew what I liked and if he had my size in stock.

Once when I went into Johnson’s for shoes, the woman who helped me asked me my name and when I told her, she said, “Did you know we are related?”

I didn’t, and then she told me that my father had been her doctor and while she was having surgery and began to lose blood, he had someone else take over and then transfused Mrs. Johnson with his own blood because he knew they were the same type.

Thus, my relationship to Mrs. Johnson.

And then there were the X-ray fluoroscope machines that the shoe stores had in the late 1940s to the early 1950s. I remember looking at my feet inside my shoes.

David R. Lapp, a physics teacher in California, wrote about these devices in a paper titled “The X-ray Shoe Fitter – An Early Application of Roentgen’s ‘New Kind of Ray.’ ”

Lapp wrote, “To use the x-ray shoe fitter, a person would stand in his or her prospective new shoes on a platform that led to an opening inside the cabinet of the machine. There were three viewing ports, one each for the person standing on the platform, the salesman, and for another observer. ... X-rays would strike a fluorescent screen covered with a sheet of lead glass to stop all the x-rays. The fluoroscopic image could be viewed through any of the ports, allowing viewers to see the outline of the feet inside the shoes. The exposure was limited by a timer. ... By 1970, they had been banned in 33 states and so strictly regulated in the remaining 17 that their use became impractical.”

And not only impractical, but dangerous.

I now go to Herberger’s in Moorhead to buy my shoes. It’s not far from where I live in Fargo, and they carry size 11, which I now wear.


Source: Forum files

Readers can reach Forum columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com