Bad health is good for specialty shoe stores

Bad health is good for specialty shoe stores

One specialty shoemaker is seeing a bump in business as Oregon’s diabetes rate spikes.

Bill Crary, owner of Crary Shoes in Portland, says requests for customized molding for diabetics now make up nearly two-thirds of his overall business. And Crary believes the reason is clear. “In the last four years we tripled in sales,” Crary says. “That’s all due to diabetes.”

The growing demand allowed the Crary family business to open a second location in Beaverton last December. Working with daughter Meredith and son Nathan, Crary says the company now employs 11 staff, including four shoemakers. He estimates he sees 40 to 50 diabetics weekly, with an average customized pair of shoes costing Medicare around $540.

According to a 2008 report by the Oregon Department of Human Services, diabetes in Oregon has jumped 35% in the past decade. ODHS notes that feet are particularly susceptible to diabetes complications because the disease causes a lack of circulation, which corresponds with neuropathy, and if not cared for properly, gangrene. The American Diabetic Association says more than 60% of all lower-limb non-traumatic amputations are caused by diabetes.

Industry experts say specialized footwear for diabetics is becoming more mainstream nationally as the number of people living with the disease grows. Joe McTernan of the American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association says Medicare orders nationwide for “off-the-shelf” orthotic footwear increased by 50% between 2003 and 2007. Gordon Rabing, sales manager for Amfit, an orthotic products and service company based in Vancouver, Wash., says many traditional shoe companies now offer two or three stock models of diabetic shoes.

Brian Lagana, executive director of the Pedorthic Footwear Association, says that across the country companies such as Crary Shoes have not been hit as hard by the economic downturn as other industries, with diabetics a significant part of their patient base. “You can certainly see an upsurge in diabetic individuals being treated,” he says. “And we’re only going to see that increase in the foreseeable future.”

WILLIAM E. CRAWFORD