Archive for the ‘Shoe News’ Category

Tonight We’re Gonna Party Like it’s 1985

On April 19, 1985, Happy Feet Plus founders Jacob Wurtz and Jane Strong officially opened for business with a kiosk in the Tyrone Square Mall in St. Pete.

Thirty years, ten stores, and a national eCommerce business later, Happy Feet Plus moves into its fourth decade of improving lives through healthy footwear.

This week, as we celebrate our 30th anniversary, let’s jump into the DeLorean and take a little trip back to the world of 1985…


Major news stories 1985:

- The location of the Titanic wreck is found by a joint American/French expedition in the North Atlantic.

- Mikhail Gorbachev replaces Konstantin Chernenko as Soviet leader.

- The Live Aid concerts raise over $50 million for Ethiopian famine relief.

- Coca-Cola releases New Coke to replace their old formula. It sells very poorly for a few months and is promptly replaced by Coke Classic.

- The Vienna Conference becomes the first international meeting about ozone layer depletion.


Notable Movies of 1985:

- Back to the Future

- Out of Africa

- Rambo: First Blood Part II

- The Color Purple

- Rocky IV


Notable #1 Billboard Hits of 1985:

- Saving All My Love for You – Whitney Houston

- Take On Me – A-Ha

- The Power of Love – Huey Lewis & the News

- Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds

- Money for Nothing – Dire Straits


Notable Popular TV Shows of 1985:

- The Cosby Show

- Family Ties

- Murder, She Wrote

- 60 Minutes

- Cheers


Popular Toys in 1985:

- Cabbage Patch Kids

- Transformers

- Pillow People

- Pogo Ball

- Teddy Ruxpin

Does this all make you feel a little older? A little younger? Age aside, as the above lists demonstrate, 30 years is a long stretch and, frankly, a long time for a company to last in today’s ever-changing economy. We believe that our longevity at Happy Feet Plus is due to our unwavering commitment to improving lives through healthier footwear. Whether you weren’t yet born in 1985 or you were celebrating the birth of a grandchild that year, the message of better health and improving lives resonates across every generation.

Here’s to another 30 years! See you in 2045!

By: Matt LaBarge, 4/16/15


Putting the “Happy” Back into Holiday Shopping

With the crush of Black Friday and Cyber Monday firmly behind us, we here at Happy Feet Plus have settled into the final push before the big day in a few weeks.

But the holiday shopping season is a little bit different with us. With a focus on health, relaxation, and downright tranquility, our in-store experiences are anything but uncomfortable, especially this time of year. We take pride in helping busy shoppers who drag into our stores at the ends of long shopping days. After telling us about their foot, knee, or back pain and getting a professional foot scan, these customers are then able to happily take a load off of their tired feet and sit back and relax while we serve up some of the healthiest and most revitalizing shoes that they’ve ever tried on. It is not uncommon for our customers to purposely wait until the end of their long, tiring days to stop in to see us, and many of them share their enthusiasm for our relaxing, hassle-free shopping environments.

Of course, for those of you who live outside of the Tampa Bay area, we also strive to provide a helpful, friendly online shopping experience as well. When you call our customer service department you’ll often speak with the same one or two knowledgeable individuals, and over time we take pride in forming great relationships with our online and telephone customers. And you’ll rarely, if ever, have to wait on hold more than a couple of minutes to speak with us.

And call us a bit old-fashioned, but we are not (and, to the best of my knowledge, will never be) open on Thanksgiving. We believe that employees who are allowed to live healthy and productive lives away from work will lead healthier and more productive work lives.

Overall, our goal here at Happy Feet Plus is to help people improve their lives through better foot health. It is in knowing that we are improving the lives of others that we take tremendous pride in what we do.

In planning this week’s blog, I was tempted to write yet another cautionary tale of Black Friday horror stories, but who wants more of that? Granted, it is downright challenging to find inspirational Black Friday stories (and by inspirational, I don’t mean this guy). Google “inspirational” or “happy” and “Black Friday” together, and you don’t find much other than the expected tales of woe. So, Happy Feeters, here is a challenge for you: share your happy holiday shopping stories with us! If you have a positive Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or other shopping experience please send us the details and we’ll pass it along. Let’s generate some healing and goodwill and help, at least a little, to turn Black Friday and the whole holiday shopping extravaganza back into a positive pastime once again.


Where Have You Gone, My Wanderlust?

In her 2001 book entitled Wanderlust: A History of Walking, author Rebecca Solnit notes, “walking still covers the ground between cars and buildings and the short distances within the latter, but walking as a cultural activity, as a pleasure, as travel, as a way of getting around, is fading, and with it goes an ancient and profound relationship between body, world, and imagination.” Solnit is speaking to the fact that over the past two decades, Americans are not only walking less than they ever have before, but we are also falling behind many other developed nations in the amount that we walk each day. A 2003 pedometer study that was published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that the average person in the United States took 5,117 steps per day compared to 7,168 steps for Japan, 9,650 for Switzerland, and 9,695 for citizens of western Australia. While this study is now over 11 years old, the news has not gotten much better since, and it means that the average American only takes about half of the 10,000 steps per day that is now a nearly universally accepted standard of health.

The reasons given in studies across academia and the web for the decline in American walking range from a lack of pedestrian-friendly areas in many parts of the country to an overuse of the automobile to a social stigma surrounding those who use their feet to get from place to place. On the automobile side, the National Household Travel Survey showed that the number of vehicle trips a person took and the miles they traveled per day rose from 2.32 trips and 20.64 miles in 1969 to 3.35 and 32.73 in 2001. On the social stigma side, when is the last time that you were driving down a busy, non-pedestrian friendly street, and you saw someone walking? Any stereotypes pop into your head about that person, even for a split-second? Here at our home in Pinellas County, FL, walkers in congested areas are often viewed with an air of skepticism, and there is a stigma attached to their bipedal efforts that causes many non-walkers to wonder why the pedestrians are walking in the first place. Is it because they can’t afford a car? Did they do something wrong and lose their license? And so on…

So, why walk? We have cars, taxis, ride shares, buses, and countless other less energy expending forms of transport, and many of us do live in pedestrian-unfriendly areas. In his excellent 2012 article entitled The Crisis in American Walking: How We got Off the Beaten Path, Tom Vanderbilt declares:

For walking is the ultimate “mobile app.” Here are just some of the benefits, physical, cognitive and otherwise, that it bestows: Walking six miles a week was associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s (and I’m not just talking about walking in the “Walk to End Alzheimers”); walking can help improve your child’s academic performance; make you smarter; reduce depression; lower blood pressure; even raise one’s self-esteem.” And, most important, though perhaps least appreciated in the modern age, walking is the only travel mode that gets you from Point A to Point B on your own steam, with no additional equipment or fuel required, from the wobbly threshold of toddlerhood to the wobbly cusp of senility.

Aside from the obvious physical and psychological benefits of walking, countless other authors have waxed poetic about the simple act of stepping outside of one’s box of creature comforts and discovering the world on foot. In his 1996 book A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson notes, upon the start of his planned hike of the Appalachian Trail, “To my surprise, I felt a certain springy keenness. I was ready to hike. I had waited months for this day, after all, even if it had been mostly with foreboding. I wanted to see what was out there. All over America today people would be dragging themselves to work, stuck in traffic jams, wreathed in exhaust smoke. I was going for a walk in the woods. I was more than ready for this.”

Having grown up within a couple of hours of both the Catskills and Adirondacks in upstate New York and spending days at a time in the woods, I could identify with Bryson’s sense of excitement as he set out on his great journey. But, and here’s the important part, you don’t have to grow up tramping around in nature to appreciate the simple, timeless act of walking from point A to point B. I am a middle-aged, busy, married father now, and I rarely, if ever, have time to set off down the trail in my favorite wilderness areas anymore. So I have adapted, and my walking has become more suburban in scope, but that hasn’t changed how much I love it. I still feel a sense of curiosity when leading my dog through some neighborhood that I have never explored before. And now, without all of the hills, we simply walk at a faster clip to keep the heart rate up. Walking is my time for thinking. I am away from work, out of the house, and not burdened by any real-life concerns other than simply putting one foot in front of the other and enjoying my time out under the stars (I frequently walk at night). Even better are the times when I can walk with my wife and four-year-old son, as our rambles frequently become an education in sticks, pine cones, superheroes, and the other magical stuff of boyhood dreams.

Even in Pinellas County, with its nearly one million inhabitants, we still have fine, safe places to walk: the Pinellas Trail, a few dozen local and state parks, hundreds of winding, friendly suburban neighborhoods, and of course our world-class beaches.

So, this weekend, when you’re contemplating plopping on the couch for a few more hours of TV, take a walk instead. Put on a pair of good supportive shoes (I think I may know of a place where you can find some!) and prepare yourself to feel invigorated, happier, and generally better all over. Putting one foot in front of the other may not only change your perspective on yourself, it may also change your perspective on your little corner of the world as well.

By Matt LaBarge, 11/14/14

Birkenstock Love

The level of love for Birkenstocks has risen to new heights in 2014. They have been rediscovered by the fashion world, and sales are off the charts at upscale and healthy shoe retailers around the country. So, this week I figured that I would be quiet for once and share what others have had to say recently about this iconic brand…

“So, what’s so special about Birkenstocks? The German orthopedic sandals embody the rare and sought after combination of comfortable and chic. They provide the support needed for a long day of walking, but their simple style and variety of colors pair nicely with anything from a sundress to a pair of ripped boyfriend jeans. There are almost no rules when it comes to Birkenstocks; wear them to the beach with a sundress and bikini, pair them with some ripped boyfriend jeans and a leather jacket to grab a cup of coffee, or slip them on over cozy wool socks, throw on a chunky sweater and you’ve got yourself the perfect lazy Sunday outfit.” –, 10/19/14

“New Yorkers are sure putting the ‘stock’ in Birkenstock. Long beloved by the granola-munching Bay Area set, the practical German sandal brand has enjoyed a steadily building surge in popularity on the Hudson ever since Céline showed a fur-lined version at its spring 2013 show.” – NY Times On the Runway Blog, 8/14/14

“‘We’ve photographed them a ton—with boyfriend jeans, Chanel tweeds, and black work dresses—for the past six months,’ says Eva Chen, editor-in-chief of the shopping magazine Lucky, who double-checks each issue to make sure Birks don’t appear more than once. ‘The last seven years in fashion have been all about the statement shoe, a beautiful, spindly heel that’s not comfortable.’ The antidote, it turns out, is buckled and cushioned…” – Bloomberg Businessweek, 7/26/14

“This summer’s sole heir to the footwear throne is, without doubt, the flat sandal. Be it pool slider, strappy, jelly or gladiator, the once considered ‘lowly’ alternative to the much celebrated heel is now at the cornerstone of every summer outfit. And we’re not just talking in the day time, at a festival or at the beach. The flat sandal is now a very real fashion choice for date night, dinner with the girls and, hallelujah, for long sessions on the dance floor.” – Glamour, 6/2/14

“It appears all those normcorers were on to something. Birkenstocks’ contoured footbed actually creates a healthy walking environment for your feet. And the metallic finish on these is anything but granola-y.” -, 5/30/14

“This spring, thanks to their everlasting comfort, and the breezy, carefree attitude of the runways, Birkenstocks are bigger than ever. The brand hit the New York runways with Trina Turk and Houghton, and collaborated with the king of Japanese cool, Yohji Yamamoto.  The cool kids, Isabel Marant and Riccardo Tisci, appropriated the classic style into their own versions. Whether original, or inspired, the sandal is now a bona fide Instagram star: hashtag #birkenstocks or #birkies, for short.” – Fashion, 4/29/14

“‘That silhouette was universally considered ugly,’ says contributor Katherine Bernard. ‘But Phoebe Philo’s luxe reinterpretation of a Birkenstock got me thinking. It’s like the most comfortable sandal in the world is having a stylish renaissance.’ With its squishy cork footbed, roomy toe box, and thick buckled straps, the sturdy, sensible sole has been embraced by others besides Bernard. In fact, fashion editors in these very hallways have been bringing their secret love of the jolie-laide shoe into the light of day. ‘I’ve been wearing them around the house forever, but recently I’ve taken fancier versions out into the world, too,’ says Associate Accessories Editor Jorden Bickham. ‘When my husband sees them, he says I’m lucky that we’re already married, but honestly I think it’s so much more sexy to be slightly underdressed, like you’re not trying too hard.’” – Vogue, 7/29/13

…All of this being said, I fell for Birkenstocks again last year after a long (and painful) bout of plantar fasciitis. So, for now I’ll stick to my high arch Birkenstock Bostons, because they give me all-day support, are super durable, and look good with a pair of jeans. For me, Birkenstocks are an old friend that eagerly awaits a trip to the office or a long walk at night, and I know that this friend will stick around with me long after the glare of the fashion world flashbulb has dimmed.

by: Matt LaBarge, 11/6/14

Quality Isn’t Expensive…It’s Priceless.

As we approach the busiest shopping season of the year, it is a good time to reflect on the idea of quality in consumer products. Studies in academia and across the web suggest that actual product quality and perceived quality, while closely tied, both rank near the top of the importance list, along with price, in the minds of consumers.

Over the past decade a few clothing and footwear companies have taken the idea of product quality to new levels. Some of these companies have begun offering their own in-house repair services to encourage customers to have damaged items fixed and reused instead of throwing them away. Still other companies have even gone so far as to begin to resell old, used items to encourage use by multiple people and even, in some cases, multiple generations. By setting aside traditional notions of discarding an item after it takes on a minimal amount of wear, these companies have infused their consumers with a sense of reuse/renew/recycle that speaks heavily to the product quality side of their business. The customers for these companies take pride in telling you the age of their jacket, for example, and in many cases, the older the better. As a consumer, wouldn’t you place a high value on a product that could be repaired over and over again to look and feel nearly like new?

When I began my time as a Store Manager in the spring of 2013 at our Happy Feet Plus store in Clearwater, FL, I heard a lot of talk about this mythical hand-made German brand that we carried called Finn Comfort. I had sold dozens of brands of shoes over my career to that point, but Finn had not been one of them. Then a customer walked into our store a few weeks into my time there, proudly holding his Finns and announcing that he just needed a resole, as he’d gotten his Finns from us in 1998. I was a bit skeptical, as the shoes looked to be no more than six months to a year old. The customer told me that he loved his Finns and that this would be his third resole since he purchased the shoes from us 15 years prior. He hadn’t needed to do anything else to the shoes other than just the occasional polish. Again, I was skeptical, but I tried to keep an open mind. Then, over the next few months, many more Finn Comfort owners arrived at the store proudly carrying their shoes and telling us that they’d had them for five, eight, ten years or more. All these customers needed were replacement insoles or new outsoles for their shoes, which could both be had for less money than purchasing a new pair. And every Finn customer seemed to take a special pride in how long their shoes had lasted.

Like the clothing companies noted above, at Happy Feet Plus we also offer our own in-house repair service, and we have been expertly resoling and repairing Finn Comfort shoes and Birkenstocks for over 25 years. We believe in the products that we sell, but we also take pride in being able to take a cherished 15-year-old pair of Finns and make them look and feel like new. This practice reduces consumer waste, so it’s easier on the planet, and it offers our customers the peace of mind that our hand-made German shoes last and last.

So, this holiday season, as you’re shopping for your friends and loved ones, take a moment to consider the quality of the items that you’re buying. Is it worth spending a little more for an item that may last four or five times as long? By purchasing for quality, you may just be creating another priceless experience.

-by Matt LaBarge 10/30/14

Local Independent Businesses: Why Should We Care?

If you’re like me, and you’ve ever marveled at the multi-hued array of locally owned shopping and dining choices that accompany a walk down Main Street in Dunedin or Safety Harbor, FL or places like Austin, TX, Burlington, VT, or Bellingham, WA, for that matter, then you have at least the beginnings of an appreciation for locally-owned, independent businesses. But while many of us can attest to the unique variety that local independents offer their respective communities, a slightly deeper look at the real economic effects that locally-owned businesses have on their surroundings can provide some real insight into their true value.

Building on its earlier studies of the impacts of local businesses in Austin, Chicago, and San Francisco, in 2008 the group Civic Economics conducted a study that focused on the Grand Rapids, MI metro area. The study found that if Grand Rapids residents were to shift just 10% of their yearly spending to locally-owned independent businesses, the resulting economic effect would generate over 1600 local jobs and put over $137 million back into the local economy. The population of the area of Kent County, MI that was covered by the study was about 770,000 at the time.

Let’s stop here for a second. Many of you probably read the above statement about Grand Rapids, like I did at first, and thought, “There is no way that I can afford to spend an extra 10% every year just to support the local economy!” But, very importantly, you may notice that the study didn’t imply that residents spend an extra 10% but instead simply shift 10% of what they already spend from non-local chains to local independents.

Now, if I may, let me throw a few more numbers at you…The population of Pinellas County, FL, where our Happy Feet Plus company began 29 years ago and continues to be based today, was roughly 921,000 in 2012. If we apply the findings of the Grand Rapids study to our home here in Pinellas County, a 10% shift in spending to local businesses by the residents of our county could mean the creation of over 1900 local jobs and an influx of over $163 million into the local economy.

If we move beyond Pinellas County and apply the Grand Rapids numbers to the entire Tampa Bay area, the result is nothing short of staggering. With its population of roughly 2.8 million, the Tampa Bay metro area could see over 5800 local jobs created and an influx of nearly $500 million into the local economy from a simple 10% shift to local spending by its residents.

But how does this happen? How does a shift to more local spending really generate more money in the local economy? The answer is simple. Dozens of local, regional, and state-level business studies conducted around the country over the past ten years have shown that, on average, for every $100 spent at a non-local chain, about $43 stays in the local economy, while for every $100 spent at a locally-owned, independent business, about $73 stays in the local economy.pie-chart-economy_big

The definition of “local” can vary based on the size and scope of the municipality in question, but most of the independent business organizations around the country define a “local” business as the following:

1)      A business that has its headquarters within the given local area and

2)      A business whose owners and employees reside in the given local area.

The Grand Rapids survey, notably, did not include publicly held firms whose headquarters were in the Grand Rapids area.  In many cases, the shareholders of publicly held firms live in other cities, states, or even other countries, thus making it less likely for them to directly contribute to the local economies where their businesses are headquartered.

While there are obvious economic benefits to buying local, many other benefits exist as well. Those additional benefits include things like the tendency of local businesses to offer more diversity of selection and their tendency to put less strain on local infrastructure and ecosystems. The case for buying local is summed up nicely in this document from Local First Vermont.

So, why do we care so much about local, independent businesses at Happy Feet Plus? Well, quite simply, we are, and always have been one.

If you’ve been on the “about us” page on our website at, you may already know that our business started with a little kiosk in Tyrone Square Mall in St. Pete in 1985, and that we continue to run our business under the same ownership and just 20 minutes up the road from Tyrone Square in Largo, FL today. In keeping with another typical trait of local independents, our owners are quite easily accessible, as their desks sit exactly 50 feet from where I am typing this in our corporate offices. Our nine (soon to be ten) stores are all located within about an hour of the Tampa Bay area, and every year we participate in many community-based activities from fun runs to health benefit galas to the Pride Parade. In 2004, our Clearwater store, with its solar panels, native plants, and cistern for collecting water for irrigation and sewer use, became the first retail space in the country to receive LEED Gold Certification.  LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a nationally recognized building program administered by the U.S. Green Building Council that recognizes achievements and innovation in eco-friendly architectural design.  All of these things, from location and accessibility to community involvement to eco friendly store designs, we hope, contribute in some way to richer choices and richer lives for our employees, our customers, and our community.

And finally, if you’re one of our many online customers, and you’re reading this from, say, North Platte, Nebraska and wondering why if I am arguing in favor of local businesses you should care about a small footwear company from Largo, Florida, please remember that at some point you’re fairly likely to be one of the 84 million visitors that Florida receives each year. When that day comes, rest assured that this local independent, like thousands of others in our area, is doing what it can to make its corner of the Sunshine State a little brighter.

The Sale Continues…..


Our Summer Solstice Sale is continuing on and you better hurry up and take advantage of this great offer!  How can you beat $10 off online purchases of all Birkenstock Sandals.  Also for all the Finn Comfort lovers out there we are offering a special promotion for a limited time only, when you purchase any pair of Finn Comfort Shoes, Sandals or Clogs and get yourself a FREE pair of socks :)


Interesting Facts:

Finn Comfort footwear provides serious support for your feet, as well as for your entire body. Finn Comfort uses premium quality leathers and natural cork and latex. Old world craftsmanship combined with orthopedic design produces exceptionally comfortable shoes, sandals and clogs.

Finn Comfort’s Prevention Series is designed to help avert foot injuries by protecting your feet from friction and abrasion. The design and construction helps prevent simple problems from becoming more serious.

Summer Solstice Sale


Interesting Birkenstock Fact:

Birkenstock Madrid Sandals – The original that started it all. Known as the Birkenstock Fitness Sandal in Europe, this design tones the foot and calf muscles while improving circulation. This timeless one strap features the famous Birkenstock contoured footbed, fully adjustable strap and shock absorbing EVA sole.

Not to mention when you purchase them online not only do you get $10.00 Off your getting FREE SHIPPING as well, you can’t beat it!!!


Come get your Foot Relief!!!!


Come visit us in store to take advantage of these great deals.  Need new Orthotics?  Well it’s time to pick some up at $10 off and you just can’t go wrong grabbing some Kenkoh Massage Sandals with $10 off as well.  You may not see this price again so may as well go ahead and grab em while it lasts.

Interesting Kenkoh Info:

Kenkoh Massage Insole

The heart of the Kenkoh Health Sandal is the massage insole.

The massage insole stimulates areas of the sole of the foot which correspond to all the glands, organs and parts of the body. The rubber (latex) insole nodules act like tiny fingers, applying pressure to the sole of the foot. As in Shiatsu and Reflexology healing techniques, the Kenkoh Health Sandal massages the feet when you walk, stand or sit with even light pressure on the sole.

It has been known for thousands of years that stimulating the individual Reflexology Zones on the sole contributes to the health of organs and muscles. Shiatsu therapists massage the soles of the feet in order to stimulate the body’s energy flow and rebalance the body.

When various reflex points are stimulated they induce a healing response. Standing on the Kenkoh Health Sandal creates a feeling much like that felt during a Reflexology massage session. Key nerve endings are stimulated which energizes organs, body functions and blood flow. Walking in the Kenkoh Health Sandals creates a rhythmic pressure on the soles of the feet similar to the rhythmic massage of a skilled Shiatsu therapist.

The research study conducted by the Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine has provided modern scientific evidence of the health benefits of the Kenkoh Health Sandals.

Healthy Happy Feet


You too can have Healthy Happy Feet by coming into our stores and purchasing yourself some Thong Sandals on sale $10-$20 off.  Sale ends 5/19/2013.

Click here to find your nearest location:

Happy Feet Plus features Birkenstock shoes, sandals, and clogs for men and women including the entire Birkenstock family of footwear – Alpro, Birki’s, Footprints, Papillio and Tatami. In addition, we are a primary retailer of the Finn Comfort line of products. We are also the North American distributor for the Kenkoh Reflexology Massage Health sandals. We offer free shipping on all orders for our shoes, sandals or clogs. All of our health and comfort footwear provide relief from foot, knee and back pain.

Interesting Fact of the Week:

How Reflexology Massage Sandals Actually Help

Excess wastes, such as Uric Acid and Lactic Acid crystallize and gravitate to the feet. The accumulation of these wastes may impede proper nerve function and blood circulation causing tired aching feet.

The gentle massaging action of the Kenkoh “fingers” helps to break up the accumulated crystals in the feet. These crystals do have sharp edges and putting pressure on them may cause discomfort for some people initially. This is the most important function. Breaking up the crystals and restoring function to your nerves and reflex zones is the magic transformation! The sandals also stimulate blood flow and help to flush the acidic crystals from the circulatory system. Drink extra water during initial therapy (see “Wearing Recommendations”.)

Dormant or sluggish nerve endings in the Sole Reflexive Zones are stimulated as well. This stimulation contributes to improving the health and function in related organs and muscles throughout the body.