Alice’s Shoes of Honor

Alice’s shoes from Shoe Biz – photos supplied by Alice

I met Alice when I was in 8th grade; I thought it was 7th grade, when I had just moved to Connecticut from California, but Alice reminded me recently that we actually met in 8th. She was my best friend and my lifeline, at a time when I was woefully sad to leave a California life that I loved, and move at the peak of my awkward middle school years. We were inseparable and Alice became a part of my family until she moved away to the Midwest – which, of course, devastated me. We kept in touch as best we could but it wasn’t until years later, when we had both graduated from college and Alice returned to the East Coast to try her hand at life in New York City – that we met again. Alice found her first job with Shoe Biz, a wholesale shoe company on 5th Avenue and 58th street, across from the legendary Bergdorf Goodman and not far from the entrance to Central Park. Their shoes were Italian, French, and Spanish, and Shoe Biz sold directly to department stores, including high-end boutique, Henri Bendel. Now living in Northern California with her family, Alice and I met last week in NYC and talked about life, our friendship, those years long ago in New York, and why Alice will never part from the shoes she still owns from her days working at Shoe Biz. Here is Alice …

I had just graduated college and decided to move to New York.The year was 1983. I found the job at Shoe Biz through an employment agency, where the agent pulled cards from the catalogue as she tried to match me to an opportunity. She was about to pass over a job for a shoe model/receptionist (with a size 6 shoe) when I stopped her and told her that I wore a size 6! That was it – I got the job as a fit model and receptionist, trying on shoes for buyers – literally because my feet were the right size! …

There were about four times a year when department store buyers would come to the showroom and I would put on the shoes (always 2 different shoe styles at a time) and model them. I will never forget that within the first 2 weeks on the job, I had my inaugural experience modeling shoes. I was totally unprepared – no one had told me what was happening. I arrived at work at my usual time, 9:00 am, and was asked to rush into the shoe showroom and start modeling shoes. I was a nervous-wreck! I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, I was hungry and dehydrated, the hot lights were pounding, I was in a panic, and somehow I modeled the shoes for at least 2, 2 1/2 hours without a break! When I finally got to break, I went to the bathroom and threw up! Of course, it got easier after I knew what I was doing. Being a fit model was a cool experience. The best part was that Shoe Biz let me take the samples and keep the shoes. It was a crazy, wonderful perk! …

I still have three pairs of shoes from that time: a dark, red suede pump with rhinestones, a navy snakeskin pump, and a two-tone green pump. I haven’t worn them in 30 years – I can’t anymore because they hurt my feet. But I will never part with them. When I look at them, I remember my time in New York, It was difficult for me but I persevered. I was there for less than two years but in that time, I found an apartment and I managed the lifestyle of a New Yorker. I like that I lived in New York by myself; it was a time of character-building. When I left, I ran to California and to something completely different which turned out to be a much better fit. I have been living in California since. It is home. But my shoes are a big part of my life story. They will be with me always.”

It seems to me that Alice’s shoes are her badges of honor. She has earned these shoes, like a soldier earns her/his stripes – they are a physical reminder of the young woman who dared to take a risk and try life on her own in a big city! 

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