These days, all it takes is a few clicks online to buy a pair of shoes. In my search for a pair of ankle boots, however, I decided to shop the old-fashioned way. On a casual stroll through the shops on Danforth Avenue, I came upon a little nook of a shoe store and ventured inside. Upon entering, I was greeted by the twinkling of a little bell by the door, announcing my presence. The subtle scent of Italian leather wafted in the air—the smell of sophistication and style. Stepping inside, I walked across old-fashioned tapestry rugs to reach the end-of-season sale shelf on the left. As I began examining the rows of boots, shoes, and sandals on display, it dawned on me that this was not like any other shop.
Sitting near the corner of Danforth Avenue and Gough Avenue, The Blue Shoe Box would be more at home on the streets of Europe. While a typical shoe store carries mainstream brands known for comfort and practicality, The Blue Shoe Box sells unique, heirloom-style footwear imported from artisan companies in Portugal, Spain, and Italy. The women’s shoes are veritable works of art, made with intricate details such as lace, buttons, and patches. The men’s collection also doesn’t disappoint: walking and dress shoes alike are made with smooth and shiny leather, exuding an impression of polished respectability.
I picked up a small, retro-style boot made of fashionably scuffed leather. The gentle curve of the boot laces sloped into a dainty leather flap at the ankle and a smart little heel planted at the base. I imagined a lady in the Victorian era slipping on those Italian booties beneath a frilly petticoat. Next, I tried on a pair of red ankle boots that sparkled like Dorothy’s magic slippers in The Wizard of Oz. While the row of vintage flower shapes running up the sides guaranteed their originality, the classic style and glove-like fit made the boots timeless. “Made in Portugal,” the label announced. I clicked my heels together three times, just in case.
In 2001, the shop first opened its doors at a small, narrow storefront at 499 Danforth Avenue. Owner Eliséo Staffiere smiled as he recalled the cramped space. “It was very small, so to me it was a box,” he said. The store’s size, coupled with the blue box each pair of shoes was sold in, led Staffiere to name his shop “The Blue Shoe Box.” The name stuck even after the footwear store moved to its new location at 592 Danforth Avenue a year and a half ago.
Today, it’s rare to find a shoe seller with more knowledge of shoes than Staffiere. In addition to over seventeen years of experience serving customers in Greektown, Staffiere is from a family of Italian shoemakers, and even has his own brand. His vast understanding of shoe construction allows him to hand pick the best-fitting shoes from around the world. “We have a very large selection of brands, which gives the customer an opportunity to select the ones that properly fit their feet,” he said.
Because Staffiere chooses not to rebrand his shoes when he sells them, his prices are more affordable than most. Otherwise, a customer would have to pay extra for a name brand. Picking up a men’s dress shoe, he said: “This shoe is all double stitched, inside and out. It’s made of the finest leather and is catered towards high-end stores where it’s normally sold from $700 up to $1,000.” Most shoes at The Blue Shoe Box average from $200-$220 per pair, which means a customer can save almost 30 to 40 per cent on a pair of shoes that would cost upwards of $500 elsewhere. “The quality is exactly the same,” said Staffiere.
While $200 might still seem costly to some, a store employee emphasized that the shoes are an investment, but a worthwhile one. “Why spend $80 on a pair of shoes that will last two to five years when you can spend a bit more and have them last ten years to a lifetime?” Ernie, another employee, said “Important stuff is expensive. You get what you pay for.” He explained that he has seen far too many people spend $500 on a pair of shoes they wear for a special occasion, but not for everyday wear. “You have to have good shoes all the time, 365 days a year,” he said, “Otherwise you’re going to run into problems over time and you’re going to need special help with your feet.”
Having good-quality shoes can help avoid foot issues and correct ones that are already there. The majority of the footwear at Staffiere’s shop have removable insoles, making them a good choice for orthotics wearers. Staffiere picked up a women’s shoe made in Holland and showed the layered insole and arch support. “The dynamic of the construction is made for people who have foot problems initially,” he said. “This is almost a correction without the expense of orthotics.”
You won’t find any clunky-looking footwear here; Staffiere prides himself in blending quality with fashion, and making it affordable at the same time. Rather than revert to a mass machine-made product with synthetic materials, each pair is made with real leather or sheepskin. The use of quality materials means avoiding the inevitable blisters that come with a cheap pair of shoes.
Walking by the store, you’d never guess the treasures inside. Unassuming on the outside, The Blue Shoe Box is a gem to the people of the Danforth, some of which are regular customers. Although the shop is quiet most days, many shoppers rely on a specific brand the store carries that they can’t find elsewhere. “Most of my clientele have been with me for many years,” Staffiere said. “They come in the spring or winter to shop because they already know we’ll have something for them.”
I walked up and down the carpeted floor in the maroon-coloured Dorothy booties. They fit better than any pair I’d tried on, and I didn’t want to take them off. The light danced across the tapered toe, and I envisioned myself wearing them for a night out. I’ve never been one for heels, but these are classic ankle boots that will last for many years if I take care of them. The bell on the door pealed out as I walked onto the chilly Danforth sidewalk. In my hand, I clutched a big paper bag with a pair of shoes likely to take me on many adventures.
Undoubtedly, shoes are a statement of status and fashion, and the wide variety of shoes in stock at The Blue Shoe Box make it easy to treat yourself to a pair of spring footwear. With everything from funky rain boots to retro Mary Janes, you’ll find something that will become your newest statement piece. “We are close to an orthopedic footwear retailer, but at the same time, we provide medium-high fashion in looks, and a medium-high fashion in quality. This is the combination of The Blue Shoe Box,” Staffiere said. There you have it, folks. No need to take a trip to Europe to find fancy footwear—The Blue Shoe Box is right around the corner and creates an effortless blend of style, comfort, and quality.