Edmonds shop keeps its focus narrow, its shoes wide

People with regular feet can shop anywhere. Those with wide feet have a farther walk.

Wide Shoes Only is there for the tired, huddled-toed masses.

Bring on your tubby tootsies. Sit back, prop up your heels and shop owner Lina Ahn will measure your foot to the fraction of an inch.

“Even my steady customers, I measure them,” Ahn said. “Feet change.”

The choices are vast and chic at the Edmonds shop: Running shoes. Work boots. Party heels. Sandals. Career pumps. Chefs shoes. Loafers. Oxfords. Dancing shoes.

Brands include Hush Puppies, Brooks, Red Wing, SAS, Dansko, New Balance and Munro.

Sizes range from 5 to 13 for women and 7 to 18 for men, in wide and extra-wide.

Ahn, a tiny woman with size 5 feet, might seem an unlikely soul to cater to those who leave a wide footprint.

It started with shoe repair.

Ahn and her husband, Leo, moved here from Korea in 1977 with three young kids and $5,000. The entrepreneurial couple wanted to buy a store of some sort, but needed flexibility for a family life. “A grocery shop had long hours,” she said.

A church member selling a Shoreline shoe repair store gave them a good deal and training.

It was a success. The couple hired workers and opened stores in Kirkland and Anacortes.

Then the market changed with the glut of cheap shoes that were tossed rather than repaired. People in standard sizes had affordable choices galore, but the wide-sized class were left out of the shoe mother lode.

“When they have a comfortable wide shoe they want to keep it forever,” Ahn said. “They came asking for repairs and said they couldn’t find wide shoes. I said, Oh, they need wide shoes. We have to change. Shoe repair was downhill.”

Ahn and her husband opened two Wide Shoes Only stores. Their son, Dominic, runs the Renton shop. Five employees assist at the stores, which are open seven days a week.

Susan Michael of Kirkland recently scored a pair of Dansko sandals that were a perfect fit for her size 8 extra-wide feet.

“I can’t just go anywhere,” said Michael, a customer since 2004. “They know what they are doing. I buy all my shoes here. I go to both stores.”

The Edmonds shop is in a converted home that previously housed a psychic.

“The building had a palm reader,” Ahn said. “It was crazy. It had a purple floor. The walls and everything were pink. Pink appealed to palm readers. We changed that.”

The showroom walls are lined with display shoes. Racks brim with orthotics and other shoe devices. Shoe boxes stacked floor-to-ceiling form a maze of aisles in the back rooms.

Ahn kept a leather-stitching machine and a few other tools of her former trade. If a strap is too tight, she expands it so the shoe fits just right.

“Lot of older people and those with health problems, swollen feet, diabetics or arthritis, they need a good taking care of,” she said.

The special touch pays off. Customer service is key to repeat business.

“They come from all over, even out of state,” Ahn said. “Some are so happy and thankful. They buy online, but it doesn’t work. You have to try on. Every shoe is different.”

She doesn’t compete with other merchants.

“It is not a volume store, we’re not that kind,” she said. “I don’t care what another shoe store charges.”

Shoe quality is also important, regardless of size.

Ask Ahn about the black boots she’s wearing.

“I’ve had them 15 years,” she said.

Where to find it

Wide Shoes Only stores are at 7621 Lake Ballinger Way, Edmonds, and 203 Airport Way S, Renton. For more information, go to www.wideshoes.cc. Edmonds shop:425-673-9424. Renton shop: 425-572-5613.

Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com

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