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Naive Question of the Week: Shoelaces, Anyone?

As I was rushing out the door the other day, my shoelace snapped in two. After my first appointment of the day, I dipped into a big chain drug store figuring I could easily find a replacement. No go: Three employees searched their memories and the aisles and concluded that the store had once stocked laces, but did not anymore. They suggested trying the supermarket across the street.

In the supermarket, there was a big old sign announcing "Shoe Center." Excellent, I thought. But no, the shelves under the sign stocked only tissues. I checked in with a couple of staffers, who said that this particular Giant formerly sold all kinds of shoe-related items, but that the parent company had recently ordered them to focus almost exclusively on food products. The workers suggested I try...the drug store across the street.

I had to get to the office, so I went with a loose shoe. When I arrived, I asked the first 10 people I saw this question: What kind of store would you go to if you needed shoelaces?

I freely admit I am bad at figuring out what kind of store stocks what kinds of items. But this shoelaces question elicited six different responses from the first 10 people I asked:

Target. Wal-Mart. K-Mart. (Yes--good, obvious choices, except that I work and live in the District of Columbia, which has none of those otherwise ubiquitous American institutions. And I was not about to drive 40 minutes to get a shoelace.)

Drug store. Supermarket. (Tried. Failed.)

Cobbler.

"Cobbler?" I said to my editor, RB. "Nice idea, but we don't actually live in 18th century London."

He didn't fire my obnoxious self on the spot, but instead revealed to me that a living, breathing cobbler exists just a few blocks from the paper.

As it turned out, there was a drug store--the fourth one I tried--that had laces for $3. (Even bigger surprise: They were made in the United States.)

But the fact that the other supermarkets and drug stores I visited neither carried laces nor knew whether they stocked them was another indication that laces are perhaps on their way to becoming a technology of the past. Check out the footwear on teens and folks in their 20s: We're talking flipflops, slip-ons and, among little kids, the always-annoying Velcro.

Luckily, there is the inevitable shoelace-obsessive who has collected every shoelace fact known to mankind. (Yes, there's video showing how to tie your shoes properly. And yes, the guy's a Brit, so there's this wonderful section answering the question, "How do you stop your shoelaces coming undone?") But Ian, the keeper of the laces site, does not address the question of how to find laces. This, I assume, is because there is no such problem in the U.K.

But here in D.C., this remains one of the small puzzles of life--a subset of the much larger question: How do you know what kind of store to go to when you're looking for items that aren't the primary focus of any particular variety of retail outlet? I think there must have been a class about this in elementary school that I missed because of all the teachers' strikes.

By Marc Fisher |  January 26, 2007; 7:28 AM ET
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Ummmm.... a shoe store, maybe?

Posted by: Zach | January 26, 2007 8:15 AM

Stupid liberal. See what happens when you live in the city. And you fools want voting representation in Congress and you cant even find shoelaces. Thank your god you dont live out in the wilds of rural VA.
How would you fix your water pump or tractor? Would a liberal be seen in Tractor Supply? Reminds me of the story in the WP some time ago about idiot liberals who moved out to far burbs in VA to get some land. Ooops the wild animals out there make all kinds of scary noises and these strong liberal males sold their homes and beat feet back to save environs of DC. Notice Libeerl females werent scared.

BTW Marc Nordstrom's has shoe laces as does Tractor Supply. But isnt velcro the safest for you journalists. You dont want to tie your shoes together.

Posted by: vaherder | January 26, 2007 8:21 AM

I always find laces at the end of some random aisle in a drugstore. It takes a while to find them, and no one can remember where they are, but they're there.

I had the same problem, though. Couldn't figure out where to find them.

A shoe store is a good idea, but there weren't any in my immediate vicinity when I lived in DC.

Posted by: kate | January 26, 2007 8:23 AM

Ha! Yeah, those would have been the first two places I'd tried. Er...if I ever wore shoes with laces.

Posted by: h3 | January 26, 2007 8:24 AM

See, Marc's not a scuzzball. If he was, he would have wrapped a rubberband around his shoe to keep it on.

Posted by: Marc for President! | January 26, 2007 8:26 AM

There is a wonderful old-fashioned cobbler on Northampton St, right off Connecticut Ave (below Chevy Chase Circle). They not only have laces, they will even re-sole shoes (imagine doing that, rather than throwing them away) and perform other leather repairs. You should do a story about them! I am much happier visiting them than I am going to some warehouse chain store out in the lands of highway spaghetti.

Posted by: Phil | January 26, 2007 8:30 AM

Yes, go to a cobbler and get your shoes re-soled! I buy really good loafers and wingtips, and by getting them re-soled every 8 months or so they last for years! Much better than buying cheap throw-aways every 4 months. And my experience is that cobblers are great friendly people.

Posted by: John | January 26, 2007 8:53 AM

Last time I needed them, I found them at a drugstore, Rite-Aid.

Posted by: laces | January 26, 2007 8:57 AM

Payless! (Seriously. There's one at Metro Center.)

Posted by: Julia | January 26, 2007 8:59 AM

I know you are mall-averse, but there's also a nice shoe repair place at the Pentagon City mall, which you can get to easily by Metro.

Like the store Phil mentioned, they do whatever is needed to fix shoes and other leather goods. Good work in short order. And, you can get your clothes cleaned and your pants tailored in the dry cleaning/tailor shop that's in the same storefront. Such a deal.

Posted by: THS | January 26, 2007 8:59 AM

Both our friendly safeway in Four Corners and our not quite as friendly CVS on Georgia Avenue have shoelaces tucked at the end of an aisle. I looked when I needed them earlier this year.

Posted by: Joe in SS | January 26, 2007 9:10 AM

Marc, did you buy a spare pair of laces?

Posted by: WB | January 26, 2007 9:22 AM

Shoe laces. How funny. I was born and raised in the shoe lace capital of the world, which, believe it or not, is still in the US. Portsmouth, Ohio, home of Mitchellace. A bit of a comedown, as Portsmouth was, until sometime after WWII, the shoe capital of the world.

Posted by: Tim C | January 26, 2007 9:35 AM

This is off topic, but:

Vaherder is the most obnoxious poster on these blogs. I have a question for Vaherder: Do you hate everyone who doesn't think exactly like you?

And, Marc, I always look on line first when an appropriate store doesn't spring to mind. Not sure if that would have helped in this circumstance, but then I know about the Payless at Metro Center! :)

Posted by: Please... | January 26, 2007 9:36 AM

I am hating myself for taking the bait to comment on this . . .
But why didn't you just tie the broken ends together? I know city slickers have no technical know-how, but I'd hope you'd be able to tie a broken string together. I know its not optimal because the knot might not slid through the eye-holes, but you just have to position it in the right place and it works fine.

Posted by: bkp | January 26, 2007 9:43 AM

Yea, vaherder is a bit of a rube. It's obvious that he/she has developed very little communication skills throughout his/her lifetime.

Posted by: Agreed | January 26, 2007 9:44 AM

I second Julia's mention of Payless. If you're in a reasonably well-served retail area, there always seems to be one nearby.

Posted by: Lindemann | January 26, 2007 9:59 AM

Yes, vaherder is a girly man who feels threatened everybody that is not like him. It makes him feel better to make sweeping generalizations about thousands of people that live in the city and put everyone else down - he does it all the time on these blogs. That's what happens though when you're a close minded fool with manure for your brains.

Posted by: Rosslyn | January 26, 2007 10:03 AM

Union Station has a cobbler; and there is/was one at the Farragut North Metro as well.

Posted by: Tinker | January 26, 2007 10:06 AM

In defense- sort of- of vaherder, you folks obviously are not familiar with *Max Rugemer* if you think vaherder is the biggest ashcan on the WaPo blogs!

Posted by: Anonymous | January 26, 2007 10:14 AM

vaherder is just bitter from being mocked -he and all his relatives were the ones in the stands during the rodeo scene in Borat (which was in Virginia sadly enough).

Posted by: yomama | January 26, 2007 10:14 AM

You work at the Post? There's a shoe repair place DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET. And another around the corner on L Street. And another the opposite way on L. Honestly, do you look around you when you're on the street? Cobblers are every few blocks in the District.

How unbelievably weird is this column? I think you've pretty much announced to the world that you're a dolt.

Posted by: seriously??? | January 26, 2007 10:14 AM

The answer might be found in Nicholson Baker's "The Mezzanine"

Posted by: Doug | January 26, 2007 10:17 AM

Everytime I have broken a shoelace, I have found the replacement at CVS. Your first problem, Marc, was asking the employees for help.

They are usually stored near one of three other items: light bulbs, duct tape, or extension cords.

Posted by: SJF | January 26, 2007 10:34 AM

Marc:

Don't you take Metro to work? There's a shoe repair place right on south side of L b/w 16th and 17th -- which is right on the path you would walk from Farragut North to the Post building. Don't tell me that, with all those finely honed observation skills you've acquired in your decades of news reporting, you've never noticed.

Not a ringing endorsement of your reporting skills, big guy.

Posted by: WoW | January 26, 2007 10:34 AM

I bought shoelaces a couple days ago at my local CVS, but first tried and struck out at the local Giant. (I live in the 'burbs.)
I think you're right that shoelaces are on their way to becoming obsolete, at least for children. My son is 7 and I have not taught him to tie his shoelaces. When he was one or two, I used to put sneakers with shoelaces on him and he'd always untie the laces and take off the shoes; drove us crazy. Since then, he's never owned a pair of shoes that had laces, so there's never been an occasion to teach him this particular skill. I guess he'll need to learn at some point....

Posted by: Maggie | January 26, 2007 10:36 AM

String.

Posted by: One word | January 26, 2007 10:40 AM

May not be a lot of golf shops in the District either, but all will have good sturdy shoelaces.

Posted by: vagolfer | January 26, 2007 10:43 AM

The shoe place on L Street between 16th & 17th has been closed for over a year. There is a new building being constructed on the sight. You knuckleheads need to walk the streets more often.

Posted by: T-Town | January 26, 2007 10:56 AM

I live and work in DC, and try very hard to spend my money in DC. I don't like big chain stores either.

Shoelaces - I would go to my shoe repair guy. He has them. If for some strange reason he didn't, I would go to Rodman's - repository of many cool essentials of life.

Posted by: sfw | January 26, 2007 10:57 AM

I have always been able to find men's shoelaces at CVS stores in DC. It's a small section of the store (which could be why the drug store workers were unaware of their stock in the stores you visited). One CVS had them in the same aisle as the flashlights; another in the aisle with laundry detergent. You may have to search but they're there!

Posted by: Anonymous | January 26, 2007 11:23 AM

I distinctly remember a WashPost article on the last real diner in Annapolis that used this as an index of gentrification.

To paraphrase one of the regulars, "Pretty soon this will just be another place where you can't buy a pair of shoelaces."

Hey Marc, was that you?

Posted by: Mike | January 26, 2007 11:54 AM

"Vaherder is the most obnoxious poster on these blogs."

I guess I need to try harder.

I've bought countless laces at Foot Locker and other SHOE stores. C'mon Marc, you're supposed to be the one reminiscing for the days when the local Thom McAn salesman knew your size and your family's sizes off the top of his head, how could you not think of their sped offspring, the mall shoe store?

Oh, and I take offense at vaherder calling Marc a liberal. If he were a liberal, I would have seen him at one of the secret Hollywood orgies to which we all get invited. Of course, you have to vote liberal in two consecutive elections before you get invited, maybe that's why.

(Hey, it can't hurt to try, right?)

Posted by: The Cosmic Avenger | January 26, 2007 11:59 AM

Surely someone mentioned that you can buy shoelaces at shoeshine stands. There are fewer of these today than in years past, but I bought shoelaces at one just this week!

If that fails, most CVSs sell duct tape for that sleek modern look...

Posted by: Mark | January 26, 2007 12:00 PM

No shoelaces at the Giant? That's weird. The Giant in Oakton has them. Of course, their selection is limited. I can't expect to find laces for my hiking boots or work boots there.

As for Vaherder, I'll bet he buys junk waterpumps and can't stop brake pads at AutoZone or some similar place. Why? Because he can still buy the trashy crown air fresheners and Marvel Mystery Oil there.

Vaherder is probably one of the five remaining people who believes that Slick50 really works.

Posted by: Miser Methane | January 26, 2007 12:05 PM

You got paid to write this? Pathetic.

Also, the District and surrounding areas are full of cobblers. Their signs often say "shoe repair" out front.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 26, 2007 12:08 PM

Yeah, out there in rural VA, they use well-worn dish towels as windsocks and the first path that they shovel when it snows is to the outhouse.

Posted by: WB | January 26, 2007 12:22 PM

I'm not sure if your political orientation (whatever that may be) has anything to do with it, but your inability to see beyond your nose when it comes to the availability of shoelaces certainly undermines your authority as an observer of the local scene. Just think how often in the blog, columns, discusssions you toss off ex cathedra judgements on the state of a particular neighborhood. If you haven't noticed the number of shoe repair stalls/shops throughout the area, then who cares what you think about whether downtown Silver Spring needs restaurants vs. convenience stores, or whether there are too many liquor stores in Southeast?

Posted by: Paul | January 26, 2007 12:33 PM

Geesh Paul, you need to get yourself some ExLax. You sound like you're getting ready to explode.

Posted by: Boom | January 26, 2007 12:46 PM

OK, let me get this straight:

Muslim cab drivers are refusing to give people a ride if they have been using or are carrying alcohol.

You write a story about shoelaces.

Obviously I am in the wrong blog - I thought this was run by a news reporter.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 26, 2007 1:18 PM

Ha! Good one Boom... That'll only work though if he pulls out the stick that's blocking him up.

Posted by: Rosslyn | January 26, 2007 1:22 PM

Most "shoe repair" signs nowadays are in drycleaners that don't do the repairing onsite but ship the shoes elsewhere.

Posted by: brooklyn boy | January 26, 2007 2:44 PM

That may be in Brooklyn, but if you come to the DC area, you'd find that we've got actual shoe repair/cobbler storefront shops galore. There are three within two miles of my house. Also, if you'd read the post that is supposedly passing for news and the other comments posted thereafter, you'd find that there is more than one cobbler within blocks of the Post building.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 26, 2007 3:17 PM

Our local Wally's (20 miles away) has a shoe dept. I was looking for LEATHER laces for boots. HAH! So much for supplying the wants in our rural area where hunters and fishermen abound, not to mention farmers, lumbermen, and a few other occupations that are rough and tumble. Sigh! I wasn't even going to use them for boots, although I do prefer the leather laces for them. All the laces seemed to be round, and nylon, which do not hold the knot at all, unless double-bowed. (and which are a great deal more trouble to unlace.)

Posted by: Clara Watkins | January 26, 2007 3:28 PM

Hey, Marc. Sorry everyone's so grumpy today! I appreciated this blog entry - mainly for its take on why living in the city can sometimes call for a bit of creativity. Friends back home (in Texas) can't quite "get" why I relish the ease of a five-minute drive to Wal-Mart/Target, when I'm home visiting. While DC living sometimes necessitates some creativity in solving your every day shopping needs, I wouldn't trade the experience of city living for anything. The positives do greatly outweight the challenges. Thanks for sharing this viewpoint of city life, and giving me a chuckle at the silly things that can make you temporarily crazy!

Posted by: DC Resident | January 26, 2007 4:45 PM

While cleaning out a desk at home recently, I found a few sheets of carbon paper. I wonder if anyone at Staples even knows what it is...

Posted by: Cosmo | January 26, 2007 5:30 PM

I had the exact same, and very aggravating, problem a few years ago. I couldn't find a single shoe store in Pentagon City that sold shoelaces. The answer? Your tailor or dry cleaner probably has them - they always have those little, cheap items for sale. I've always wondered how tailors make any money at all - wedding dresses, I suppose.

Posted by: Bob | January 26, 2007 7:26 PM

Cosmo, you want to mess with people? Take the carbon paper to work and lay it in the supply cabinet!

Posted by: WB | January 26, 2007 7:26 PM

Bob, I think the dry cleaner makes money on my leather jackets!

Posted by: WB | January 26, 2007 7:30 PM

Odds and ends = Bruce Variety. I'm pretty sure I've seen shoelaces there.

Posted by: fs | January 26, 2007 10:50 PM

Another vote for Bruce Variety. All the cheap stuff you can't find anywheres else in Bethesda.

Posted by: Matt | January 27, 2007 2:01 AM

Never heard of Bruce Variety, but it sounds like Ayers Variety on Washington Blvd in the Westover section of Arlington. Window shades cut to size, Replacement glass tops for percolators, keys duplicated, plumbing supplies, extension cords, toys, ice cream makers, sleds, and on and on. A real treasure, and then you can stroll across the street to Arax and get some coffee and Armenian pastry.

Posted by: ArtC | January 27, 2007 6:43 PM

You guys don't get it. Marc, like most reporters, started with a preconceived notion that he couldn't find any shoelaces. So he simply altered the facts to fit his story! Never let facts get in the way of hack reporting!

Posted by: Observer | January 27, 2007 11:58 PM

Marc,

You should called Sen. Kerry for help. I am sure in between committing treason in Geneva he would have been able to help a fellow yellow bellied coward like yourself
find shoelaces and when he returned introduced legislation requiring shoe laces to be sold in every CVS.

And you limp dicked little liberals need take a class in reading comprehension.

Posted by: Vaherder | January 29, 2007 6:29 AM

Marc, don't take the fact that the drugstore employees didn't know where the laces were as anything other than typical drugstore employee behavior. Drugstore employees NEVER know where to find anything.

Posted by: Brian | January 29, 2007 12:16 PM

Oh look, vaherder/glenn/glen is back to entertain us again!

Posted by: Maryland | January 29, 2007 7:00 PM

The Safeway a few blocks from your house has shoelaces. Plenty of them.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 5, 2007 7:22 PM

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