Nov. 17 2009 07:07 PM

Comfortable shoes that don't look orthopedic?



I have a friend who recently started bar-backing.

“You know they make those sinks ridiculously low,” she complained, “for midgets like you.” She's on her feet all night. She's in agony. But the idea of wearing Grandma's white sneakers, or worse, nurse shoes, makes her shudder.

It's not too hard to find cute shoes, sexy shoes, expensive shoes or even cheap shoes. But finding comfortable shoes? Rough. Finding comfortable and cute? Seems daunting, but not as impossible as legend would have it.

La Jolla, land of wealthy octogenarians, is predictably home to not one but two “comfort” shoes stores. Yes, they have sad, white, rubber-soled grandma shoes; yes, they have shoes that would make your feet appear to have been sunk into two rectangular blocks of concrete. But, shockingly, they both also have shoes that are sleek, sexy and even mildly hipster-esque. Both specialize in European brands because the Euros understand not only the ancient art of cobbler-ing but also style.

La Jolla Shoe Gallery (7852 Girard Ave., 858-551-9985) has a mildly appealing collection of clogs that go beyond the slip-on variety. And they carries Clark's—which can be ugly or attractive, depending on the cut of the leather and which way the wind was blowing when the shoe designer was at work. The really interesting collection here is courtesy of Tsubo. One of the Tsubo owners / designers is formerly of Reebok, and he took the technology they used in running shoes and applied it to, well, genuinely cool shoes. These don't resemble orthopedic shoes in any form.

The other store by the shore is Riviera Euro Comfort Footwear (7777 Girard Ave., 858-459-4137, plus a Carlsbad location), Riviera carries Ecco, a rugged brand with a few reasonable looks, but the reason to come here is Taryn Rose. Ms. Rose is a fashion-conscious orthopedic surgeon who's apparently also keenly business-minded, as she recognized a gaping hole in the shoe market. Her styles are Louboutin-expensive but are made with NASA-created foam and waterproof leathers. Her line for Payless is markedly cheaper than those here (which run in the $200s), but these luxury shoes are like butter and as stylish as anything at Bloomingdales. A few other lovely lines here: the very hard to find FSLNY shoes and the rugged but sweet shoes from Rouge.

La Jolla isn't for everyone. Footwear Etc. in Little Italy (1680 India St., 619-233-1221) is all about comfortable shoes, but, truth be told, they specialize in the fugly cement-block variety. Peer deeper into the store and you'll see that it does carry a few collections that walk the line between tacky and cool: Hispanitas, a brand from Spain that has some runway-worthy designs as well as some clunkers; Clark's Artisan line; Beautifeel from Israel, whose motto is “dressy comfort”; the slightly twisted California-based Think! Line; and Geox. The latter is known for kids' shoes but should be known for sexy-librarian work heels.

You pay extra for comfort. And that's why, if you're looking for comfortable shoes—and you're probably reasonably interested since you've read this far—it's worth a trip up the I-15 to Rancho Bernardo and to Footwear Etc.'s outlet store (16777 Bernardo Center Drive, 858-613-1221).

Same brands, last season's models, priced much better than their Little Italy brethren.

And if you really want those concrete block shoes, they're 50-percent off, too.    

Web Peek: A blog about shoes—both comfortable and not:

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The original version had the descriptions for Riviera Euro Comfort Footwear and La Jolla Show Gallery flipped. It's since been corrected.


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