Square Deal Shoe Store – Des Plaines, Illinois - Atlas Obscura
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Des Plaines, Illinois

Square Deal Shoe Store

This historic store hides a museum exhibiting a shoe-sizing x-ray machine and a pair of kicks that once belonged to the world's tallest man. 

You’ll find more than a square deal at Square Deal Shoe Store in Des Plaines, Illinois. The family-run shoe shop boasts a mini antique shoe museum, which includes shoes that date back to the early 1900s.

Perhaps the most notable item in the museum is the hefty pair of shoes that once belonged to Robert Pershing Wadlow, the tallest person in evidential recorded history. While he grew to wear American shoe size 37AA, the shoes on display at Square Deal Shoe Store are American shoe size 28, ones Waldow, affectionately known as the “Gentle Giant,” wore during his late teen years. They were left at the store as a partial payment for a newly made pair.

Born in Alton, Illinois, February 22, 1918, Wadlow suffered from hyperplasia of the pituitary gland, resulting in abnormally high levels of human growth hormone. Towering over his peers at a height of 2.72 meters (8 feet, 11 inches) and a weight of 199 kilograms (439 pounds), he became a celebrity, even touring with the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1936. Unfortunately, Wadlow’s condition necessitated leg braces, which one day caused a blister that was followed by infection. An autoimmune disorder caused the simple condition to worsen until Wadlow’s eventual death at the age of 22 on July 15, 1940. There is now a bronze statue in his honor in his hometown of Alton. Another pair of his large shoes is on display in the World Famous Giant Shoe Museum in Seattle, Washington.

Square Deal Shoe Store is also home to a Simplex shoe-fitting fluoroscope, a machine that was once used to take X-rays of people’s feet. The machine, a deluxe version, has three viewing portals, one for the shoe salesman, one for the shoe buyer, and one for anyone accompanying the shoe-buyer. Though no longer in use since the 1950s, and illegal since the 1970s for fear of radiation (and to prevent untrained diagnoses of broken bones), you can still peek inside a viewer for a sample X-ray image.

Established in 1921 by Luigi and Amelia Capozzoli, Square Deal Shoe Store continues in the family name, now run by the originators’ daughter Julie Capozzoli and her son Jack Capozolli, who retain the store’s homey, vintage vibe. The shop’s cash register, for instance, was bought new when the store first opened. Luigi once said that workers must continue using the register until it breaks, which it has not yet done.

In keeping with tradition, visitors to the store can get their shoes fit personally, and in the back of the shop, workers repair and polish shoes that customers bring in. Square Deal Shoe Store still functions as a place to buy the latest in comfort footwear, from New Balance to Minnetonka. Stop in for the added bonus of getting a glimpse of once-popular styles no longer seen on the street as well as mementos of shoe fitters from a bygone era.

Know Before You Go

Approximately 30 minutes from Chicago, right across the street from the Des Plaines Metra station.