Words by Smiley Team
In Northeast Kansas, a town of fewer than 100,000 people, is a store named Footprints – a shop out of a building shaped like a small church that of all things, sells and repairs the popular sandals brand, Birkenstocks.
For the last 35 years, Mick Ranney has sold and repaired Birkenstocks out of a single independent retail location. Ranney’s shop has helped cement Lawrence as the “Berkley of Kansas,” and takes orders and distributes all throughout the country and even as far as Guam.
People send the shoes into Ranney, sometimes even if the repair is more expensive than a new shoe (and that’s saying something with most base model Birkenstocks going for at least $100). There’s a connection that some people forge with their shoes, and as the material of the shoe fits the form of someone’s foot that connection strengthens.
“There's something kind of unique about wearing a pair of Birkenstocks or your favorite shirt or whatever,” Ranney told Kansas Pubic Radio. “After you wear it for a long time, you get this connection with it that is kind of personal and it has a value beyond normal reason.”
But Ranney didn’t start with shoes. His first business venture was selling bicycles in the same church-style building he’s in now. In the early 1980s, Ranney connected with his then girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend who sold the shoes in Connecticut and he gradually integrated them into his shop, thinking that he could sell the sandals alongside bikes. Eventually, the shoes became his business.
A lot of the growth that Ranney and his business have experienced in the last decade or so has to do with the growing popularity of Birkenstocks. The shoe style dates all the way back to 1774 when Johann Adam Birkenstock is listed as "subject and cobbler" in the church archives of Langen-Bergheim, Germany.
The shoes were intended to promote a “natural gait” and are now seen as a fitness sandal of sorts.
For much of their history though were considered “ugly” but around 2014 they started becoming trendy with celebrities and influencers breaking into the brand. They’ve even been referenced as part of an ugly sandal trend.
This trend has helped Footprints, with Ranney getting a bump in business all over but also from the local University of Kansas.
REPAIR, DON'T BUY NEW: You can find Ranney’s shop here if you want to check it out.
DONATE: You can also donate old shoes to Soles4Souls, a non-profit that distributes shoes to those in need.