This wasn’t a shoe store, it was a candy shop. From the day The Athlete’s Foot opened, it was the number one must-see store in the mall–the place you ran for as soon as you got dropped off by mommy and daddy. So long, Spencer Gifts! Nice knowing you, National Record Mart! Vaya con Dios, Video Arcade! You walked into this store and pretty much wanted one of (ok, a pair of) every single thing they carried. Despite the somewhat off-putting name, (have you ever seen a bad case of tinea pedum?) this retail establishment was a winning concept from day one.
Before the advent of these kind of specialty stores, parents bought their kid’s “sneakers” at places like Kmart or JC Penney or the dusty old sporting goods shop where they sold bowling trophies and gym bags. The shoes from these places had lame-ass names like Traxx and USA Olympics. The Athlete’s Foot offered exotic brands that identified themselves with cool things like the winged goddess of victory or Andes-roaming jungle cats.
On the sales floor, potential customers were encouraged to fondle and handle and fuss over the merchandise like each shoe was the breast of some plump carny skank. Just a few minutes in The Athlete’s Foot was all it took to send images of Nike Bruins, Puma Clydes, and Saucony Jazz dancing through a child’s head like so many sugarplums. And once the burning adolescent desire for these colorful rubber, nylon and leather objects flared up, there was only one way to “put it out,” so to speak. With a purchase.
Parents reeled. In these new stores, what was once a $9.99 commodity you plucked out of a wire mesh bin near the automotive section of Kmart was now displayed like a work of art and sold for a price 4 or 5 times as dear. And if you didn’t comply with the howls of want emanating from your offspring, it was simple. You lost your children. Once The Athlete’s Foot was in town, if you still insisted on dragging the kids to Woolworth’s and slapping the same old off-brand shoes on their feet, they would hate you until the end of time. Such is life.