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Pilgrimage to Mecca

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For those beset by an unusual obsession, there is often a physical place in the world that brings that obsession to life in a vivid, almost erotic way. Whether it’s a walk in front of Mann’s Chinese Theater, a visit to Cooperstown, or even a road trip to Mt. Rushmore, there are places in the world that obsessive people dream of visiting one day.

For those who love shoes, there is single block in New York City that is precisely that — the Mecca of shoes — West 8th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Some know it as the heart of shoe Mecca, others simply as West 8th. Whatever you call it, it’s unbelievable: a single block that somehow supports upwards of 20 shoe stores, all jammed with footwear and other leather goods and outnumbering the head-shops that are the other main industry of this block 3-to-1. (But don’t worry — there are still plenty of head shops.)

I was lucky enough to pay West 8th a visit on a recent trip. With a business colleague and friend from Europe in tow, I walked the Village, had lunch at the Mt. Everest of pizza joints — John’s on Bleecker Street — and then took my sweet time shopping W8th. As we walked the block from west to east and scanned the crowded window displays, the sheer number of shoe stores threatened to become overwhelming. To the untrained eye, many look like they are carrying the same shoes. And while some are indeed the same, the trained (obsessive) eye knows that many of those “same” shoes actually reflect subtly different lines and styles. So the first challenge for the discerning shopper is to find just the right store — one that offers the styles and the prices to meet your needs. I was looking to continue down the pointy path and was hoping for something in the $100/pair range. My European friend was looking for something in an American shit-kicker.

We eventually settled on a store called Mind Boggler (a shoe store that, judging by its name, should have been a head shop, or once was). We’d browsed several others, but were still unsure we’d be able to find what we were looking for. But there in the back, past the racks of leather jackets, was an extensive inner sanctum of shoes. Jackpot!

We spent 45 glorious minutes auditioning styles. I ended up with not one, but two pair. The first, Steve Madden, side-zip, black, square-toe pointy boots with clean lines and a low heel. The other pair shared the silhouette with the Maddens, but had double goring on top of the arch and a subtle wing tip pattern on the toe. This pair is a deep and beautiful brown and apparently a private label brand “hand-made just for us in Italy,” the salesman told me.

I’m sure.

Regardless, they are beautiful. My European friend found her perfect American shit-kickers in a pair of Georgia Boot brown-suede cowboy boots, with harness straps and ring. They are awesome.

After getting our fill, we strolled the rest of the block feeling like you might if you strolled through San Francisco’s Ferry Building after eating lunch at Boulevard — completely satisfied but still surrounded by mouth-watering and delicious foods. It was positively decadent.

So, if you’re ever in Manhattan and have a hankering to feel up some footwear, head directly to W8th Street, walk from Sixth to Fifth Avenue and revel in the Mecca of shoes.

If you can’t wait, click here.

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