One of David Fleming's first customers the morning after Labor Day bought nine pairs of Earth Shoes.
After shelling out upwards of $300 for a closetful of deliberately down-at-the-heels footwear, the customer berated Fleming for not having more shoes to sell.
"She was saying, 'How can you do this to me? These are the only shoes I can wear that don't make by feet hurt,' and I told her it was hurting me more than it was hurting her."
Fleming is the manager of what used to be the Georgetown Earth Shoe store.
The Earth Shoe sign learned beside the door to the shop, freshly painted green and awaiting a new moniker. Henceforth the store will be The Walking Center.
Earth Shoes are gone. The company that made them has filed for bankruptcy. The liquidator who bought what was left - the same liquidator who sold out the remains of Robert Hall - says no more will be made.
When the 3,000 or so pair in the three Washington stores are sold, that will be all.
Earth Shoes started going down the tubes in December 1975, said Casey Wilson. Wilson is a partner in the local outlets which, like most Earth Shoe stores, were independently owned.
That was when the company that made the shoes introudced new models in black patent and red and green leather and started advertising on national television.
The black patent Earth Shoes were such dogs that not even the ardent entrepreneurs who ran the 100 or so Earth Shoes stores wanted to buy them. Their customers were even less enthusiastic.
The television commercials weren't such a hot idea either, lamented Willson, since some of them ran on channels a thousand miles from the nearest Earth Shoe store.
But the company had a new advertising agency and a new merchandiser, brought in from a conventional shoe company, who jawboned the store owners into the innovations.
The company even went so far as to draw up a written contract with the independently-owned stores. Willson recalled. But "the Kalso kids" - founders of the first Earth Shoe outlets - didn't like the contract and proposed their own terms. The whole thing was forgotten and the company never did formalize its franchizes.
"None of us knew anything about business," Willson admitted without embarrassment.
"When I came to work, the cash register was a tin box we kept in an antique refrigerator," Willson said. His background was not much different from other Earth Shoe dealers. He had a degree in international relations and was getting another in government operations, needed a partime job and wore Earth Shoes.
The latter was the foremost qualification, Willson said. Larry Harrod, the newest employee of the Georgetown store, "was s the first person we ever hired who didn't come in wearing the shoes."
From the beginning, the Earth Shoe company had been surrounded by counter-culture trappings. The stores may not have been the hippie communes that other shoe dealers considered them, but they weren't Thom McCann shops either.
The company got its start on Earth Day, 1969. As the story goes, founders Raymond and Eleanor Jacobs saw the shoes on a vacation in Scandinavia and persuaded the maker, Anne Kalso, to let them sell - and later make - the shoes in America.
With heels that were lower than the toes - a negative heel, Kalso called it - Earth Shoes drew perennial podiatry patients, the health food store crowd and plenty of imitators. (The biggest Earth Shoe knock-off house, Roots, is also in trouble.)
The Georgetown Store ias the second outlet. Its owner, T. Greer Firestone, tried the shoes and liked them so much he decided to sell them. By the time the bubble burst, Firestone owned, with various partners, six stores and s summer shop at Rehoboth Beach.
At its peak, the Georgetown unit sold $50,000 a year. Repeated urgings of Earth Shoe Systemet, the distributer, lead the local company into shopping malls - Springfield in Springfield in Virginia, Montgomery in Maryland, Deptford in New Jersey. King of Prussia and Rittenhouse, Square in Pennsylvania.
Expansion left the local stores - and most others - healthy in debt to Earth Shoe Systemet for inventories, Willson said. When the 1976 styles bombed, payments to the manufacturer fell behind. That problem is headed for the courts.