OLOFF’S SHOES, East Williamsburg

by Kevin Walsh

Forgotten NY correspondent

Your webmaster Kevin Walsh missed this sign for the former Orloff Shoes at 753 Grand Street in East Williamsburgh, Brooklyn in a recent Grand Street entry in FNY. He would have never seen it because it was obscured very well by a fabric awning. I only stumbled upon it as I was driving by in the early AM while going to work.

Remember the shoe buying experience of years past? NYC hosted many well known shoe stores that some of you may remember. Names that instantly come to mind for me are Florsheim, Coward’s, Thom McCan and for the kids, Buster Brown.

Window shopping for shoes was the first step in purchasing shoes. Most shoe stores had expansive display windows to maximize exhibition space. You’d pick out the style you were interested in and had the clerk bring out that pair or maybe another pair you had your eyes on.

But first your foot had to be measured properly to insure a good and healthy fit. ¬† Remember that steel contraption your foot was placed in with sliding pieces on the top and side of your foot that measured PROPERLY your foot’s length and width to determine it’s size?

Believe it or not, that device has a name. It’s called a Braddock Device. It was invented by a Charles Braddock, and was patented in 1925. The Braddock Device has been considered the standard foot measuring tool for many years. The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC even has an early sample of one on display.

Unbelievable as it sounds now with scientific knowledge of the hazards of excessive exposure, would you believe that shoe fitting x-ray machines once existed? They were in use around the world from the 1920s until the 1970s. Shoe stores would use them for customers to actually be able to see a live x-ray of their foot in a shoe and whether it was a good fit or not. To see an x-ray of your wiggling  toes in shoes was part of its appeal.

I vaguely remember my mother taking me to a shoe store and using one of those machines as a child in the 1950s.

Its use declined drastically as it was discovered that taking many x-rays and its cumulative effect of radiation exposure wasn’t good for the human body. In addition, shoe salespeople were even at greater risk of excessive exposure to radiation.

How much different is today’s shoe buying experience from yesterday’s?

First of all, it seems to me, is that today’s shoes don’t have the quality of shoes of years past. Back in the day, the upper part of shoes were almost indestructible. The only part to wear out were the soles. When they did, you’d take ’em to your nearest shoe repair shop , where new soles would be put on. As a side note, old school shoe repair shops have virtually disappeared from NYC. That’s because with shoes we buy now, they’re so inexpensive, that we just toss them in the garbage instead of having them fixed. Hence, this creates LESS demand for shoe repair services.

Also the mass market shoe retailers offer very little personal assistance. No staff member will measure your foot as they did back in the day. You pick out a pair off the shelf, and you try them on. Even if they SEEM to fit, its purchase is likely.


1 comment

Antonio Delgado June 26, 2017 - 7:02 pm

I reached out to Dr. Joan Oloff (her grandfather owned the shoe store on Grand Street). I had the chance to meet her last summer. She came into Brooklyn and we met in front of the store. She had hoped to get a look inside but the real estate agent didn’t show. We spoke for a few minutes outside the store.


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