Heel and Sole in Chico
● By Kimberly Boney
Happy Feet Happy Soul
By Kimberly Bonéy
Photos by Eric Leslie
SLIPPING ON A PAIR of shoes may seem like a relatively mundane task. It’s something we all do every day – at least once. But when that pair of shoes is stylish, comfortable, good quality and reasonably priced, this simple act can be a gift to the soul. The right pair of shoes can make a person feel better, walk taller and strut their stuff on a runway or a sidewalk. In short, the right pair of shoes can change your life. Just ask Cinderella – or Rick Stuelpnagel, owner of Heel and Sole Shoes in Chico. He has learned over the years just how much happiness the right pair of shoes can carry.
“I used to think people only cared about the price. That’s not the case. Sure, they want something comfortable, something that has quality, and something in their price range – but it better look good. Even the guy looking for work boots will ask his wife how he looks in them first,” says Stuelpnagel.
Stuelpnagel, who says he barely recalls how he came up with the name Heel and Sole, does remember wanting the moniker to be something memorable for customers. “I thought the double meaning would be something that would stay with people.” And stay with people it has. The words “heel” and “sole” clearly reference anatomical parts of a foot, but the clever play on words encourages shoppers to ponder the name on a deeper level. Heel and Sole’s homophones, “heal” and “soul”, help to brand the store as a place to get more than just stylish accessories to wear on your feet. It encapsulates the happy feeling that comes with finding that perfect pair of shoes. And the store delivers on its promise.
A Chico State graduate, Stuelpnagel spent some years living out of the country – in Peru where he ran a large milk plant and in Mexico, where he worked in a food
factory. “We wanted to return to Chico. There was no need for any more food factories. The town had plenty of that. I figured I’d start a shoe business,” Stuelpnagel says. In 2002, he opened Heel and Sole, something he had never considered before he made the decision to return home.
“It’s fun, a good income and an adventure. It’s always a gamble. Fashion can change so quickly. You’ll sell 200 pairs of the same style one year and you are lucky to sell 12 pairs the next. And then you have a shoe like Saltwater Sandals that sell in the exact same style for 25 years. It’s quite a challenge because you have to have what people want – the right style, the right color, the right fashion. If it’s just a little bit off, you’re done. It’s pretty unforgiving,” says Stuelpnagel.
The sheer variety of options at Heel and Sole can be overwhelming – in an I-can’t-decide-which-10-pairs-I-want kind of way. With at least 80 different brands, including Born, Spring Step, JP Originals, New Balance, Caterpillar, Sketchers and Steve Madden, among countless others, and more than 1,000 different styles to choose from, Heel and Sole is recognized as the destination for shoes in the North State. From the high end to the low end, from sandals to boots and everything in between, Heel and Sole is filled from floor to ceiling with shoes. “As long as you are not claustrophobic, you’re good,” Stuelpnagel says with a laugh. “We try to have something for all of the people who walk through these doors. In the city, shoe stores can specialize. We don’t specialize as much because we are catering to such a large group of people.”
Staying abreast of the latest style trends is no easy win. Stuelpnagel admits that he gets by with a little help from his friends, and that a bit of listening goes a long way. “I usually do a little research. I have a lot of young ladies that work here. I listen to their suggestions. I listen to what my customers ask for. I have my own thoughts. And we go from there. It’s so abstract. You take a good average of what people think, and then, you just go for it. People will let you know if they agree with you or not on a particular style based on whether they buy it or not.”
With 16 sweet years in business and counting, Heel and Sole, no doubt, leaves a lasting impression on its patrons. And how could it do anything but, when it brings happiness to the soul, one fabulous pair of shoes at a time? •
Heel And Sole Shoes • 708 Mangrove Ave., Chico
Monday – Saturday: 10 am to 8 pm • Sunday: 10 am to 6 pm
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