The Modern Shoe Shop at 3713 Macomb St. NW is one of a vanishing type; a family owned, neighborhood shoe store. It is a place where the sales staff knows how to cope with the vagaries of toddlers who scream when their feet are touched and the vanity of status-conscious 8 year olds who must have a particular brand of sneaker.
A one-story brick building in a small commercial strip off Wisconsin Avenue, the shop gives no hint from outside that it is a stamping ground for vice presidents, first children, television news anchors and presidential advisers.
Inside, with its rows of vinyl-covered chairs, it looks like nothing more than an old-fashioned place where generations of mothers have bought back-to-school footwear each August.
Owned and run by one family for 60 years, it is one of the few children's shoe stores in Northwest outside the F Street shopping area. That, and its shoe repairman, Ernie Rivers, keeps customers beating a path to its door.
"This is the only real shoemaker place in Washington," said Lorna Green, a Georgetown resident who came to the store recently to drop off one pair of shoes and pick up another. "There's one downtown but you can't talk to the shoemaker."
Green said she took her shoes back to her native New York to have them fixed until she found the Modern Shoe Shop.
Assistant manager Joe Woodburn and saleswoman Olivia Pratt rattle off a list of well-known clients. Barbara Bush, wife of the vice president, brings her family's shoes to be repaired. So do news broadcasters David Brinkley and Daniel Schorr and former presidential press secretary Jody Powell.
In the early 1970s, the children of Robert Kennedy were annual customers, arriving, Pratt said, with a governess. When Amy Carter lived at the White House, she bought her shoes there.
Amy is no longer a patron, but many of the Modern's customers are so devoted that when they leave town, they mail their shoes back for repairs, Woodburn said.
"We've mailed shoes overseas through the State Department," he said. One woman who lives in Lynchburg, Va., sends hers via chauffeur, while another who moved to South Carolina orders by mail.
Customers say they bring their children to the store because the sales persons are skillful at fitting their feet.
Duanne Jones of Adelphi, who brought her l7-month-old daughter, Mytia Crawley, to the store recently for new sandals, said she was not happy with the chain stores in the suburbs.
"Every time I go they never have the size I want or the shoes are made kind of cheap," Jones said.
Fitting children can be difficult, Woodburn said. "They pull their toes back, or they don't stand still. They're not like a grown-up. They won't say it hurts," he said. In addition, older children often choose style over a correct fit, he said.
"You put a shoe on a kid and if he doesn't want it, he'll say it hurts. But if it's the one he wants, it could be four sizes too small, and he'll say it's fine," he added.
Staff members at the Modern are as loyal to the owners, the Mancari family, as some customers are to the store. Rivers, the shoe repairman, has worked in the store for 14 years, as has Woodburn. Pratt has worked there for four years.
Antonio (Tony) Mancari ran the shop until his death three years ago. "Tony treated me more like I was his daughter than an employe," Pratt said.
Mancari's father Salvatore, an immigrant from Sicily, opened the store as a shoe repair shop in 1922.
It was located across the street, at 3706 Macomb St. NW, until l970 when Tony Mancari moved it to its current, larger space and began to sell shoes as well as repair them. Mancari suffered a heart attack while he was waiting on customers in November 1980 and died about a month later.
The store now is owned by his wife Edwardine Mancari. "Hopefully my 8-year-old) son will take it over from me someday," she said.