The way the agitated grocery store manager was talking, I was wondering if I should be expecting two bulky security guards to appear and grab me by the elbows. No, I hadn’t seen any sign at the entrance. (I checked on my way out and items stacked for sale were partially blocking it from some angles.) No, I had never heard it was illegal to be walking bare footed. (It isn’t. I came home and did research to verify this.) And, no, I’m not interested in a creative rendition of government health codes regarding customers’ bare feet. (Double checked afterward to be nonexistent.) A mantra of “no shirt, no shoes, no service” was rapidly recited to me, then quickly restated. The manager seemed to get embarrassed at the no shirt clause (I was wearing one….), and modified his accusation. He was coming across as panicked, caught between treating me as a customer and a criminal (from his misinformed perspective). I said I would like to at least finish my grocery shopping (I was about ¾ of the way done with a major grocery shopping effort). He glanced nervously at my cart and asked, “Five minutes?” “More like 10,” I replied. My request was granted and I wondered if I was going to be shadowed for the remainder of my time there.
I understand the whole private property thing. I know that going around with bare feet is not all that common, but I am ready to have intelligent conversations about it. What gets under my skin the most is the bold faced lie of a sign at the store entrance and the way this affects other people’s view of me. I’m pretty sure it was another customer that “turned me in,” judging by the way the first employee ran up to me to tell me I couldn’t have bare feet. The sign claims that it is “the law” that shoes are required. At first, I gave Winco the benefit of the doubt. I did some follow-up research to find good resources about the law and I emailed their corporate offices. I described my experience and included the links about the lack of laws about foot wear or feet. Their response made it clear that they know it is a lie. They fell back on the liability argument.
There is no logical reason to be concerned about bare feet as a unique liability issue. There are more potential problems with bare hands. Do they monitor whether customers are washing, using clean techniques in bulk bins, or not smashing fingers? Hands are much more at risk in a grocery shopping experience. That doesn’t even include factors like spreading germs. What about dirt under my fingernails? Is it their responsibility to monitor everyone who comes in the doors for potential contagious germs? How many times have you seen a sick person in a grocery store? Why don’t they tell them to go home for public health and liability reasons? What about the liability of selling certain foods to people who, according to health codes, should be losing weight? (I’m sorry, miss, our lawyers advise us that we can only sell you lettuce and carrots)
It is like saying they might be liable if I drive too fast in their privately owned parking lot. This excerpt from A Case for Bare Feet, as published on barefooters.org, gives an idea of the weakness of this concern:
In fact, business owners who post signs requiring footwear in their stores for “liability reasons” might be opening themselves up for “duty of care” lawsuits. These signs could be interpreted as the business owner proclaiming a duty of care in assuring the safety of a customer’s footwear (by deeming one type of footwear unsafe and not allowed, the business owner has taken under his or her wing the whole range of possibly unsafe footwear). If a customer on high heels or platform shoes were to severely sprain their ankle because of their shoes, the business owner might be liable, since he or she has proclaimed by his or her sign a “duty of care” interest in customers’ footwear.
If these were real issues, there should be a shoe inspector at the door. What about the problems caused by shoes? If the whole foot cannot be used well, the customers are at risk of everything from falling to long term back injury. Is this the store’s responsibility? There are many other “what IF’s” that could be talked about. What IF I’m not dressed “right” for the weather and catch a chill? What IF my legs are showing and I get cut by … something. What IF something falls against my arms or someone runs into me with their cart and my knees get banged up? The fact is, sandals are not going to protect feet from much, IF anything. (Ever had a rock get into your sandal?) And shoes will give you fungus! The world is not a safe place.
If it is a matter of corporate aesthetics, any sort of sandal should be considered “gross” since pretty much the whole top of the foot can be seen. The same part that is seen when someone has bare feet. Why not a uniform that everyone puts on when they come in the door, so that touchy customers won’t be offended by the fashion choices of other customers. Maybe we should all wear sacks on our heads, with little peep holes for eyes, so that any potentially dirty or unkempt hair is under wraps. (Have you seen everyone on windy days?)
Back to the issue of businesses lying about bare feet being illegal. I am not claiming any “right” to go bare foot. I don’t believe government laws about discrimination help anyone in the long run. Any government codes about business practices make prices go up simply by the fact that there must inherently be an army of regulators paid to monitor everything (and the effectiveness of that oversight is dubious). One could argue that it is because of such regulations that many people have wrong ideas about whether it is legal to have bare feet at all! It is because there are SO many such laws and regulations that no one can keep track. And some other customer can be misled into turning me in, like we live in Nazi Germany or something!
However, just because a business is free to make a choice about providing service on private property based on hat style, choice of breath mints, or waist size, does not make it good. Just because they are free to discriminate, doesn’t mean it is wrong for me to be irritated by it. It is not wrong for me to expose their lies and demonstrate how they are misinformed.
I have been in other places, in my town, in other places in the USA, and other countries, where people with bare feet are welcomed. There is something mistakenly arrogant about excluding people who want to have bare feet. It reminds me of someone who has moved up in the world putting on airs to prove their superiority, when it only proves they are snobs. If someone thinks wearing shoes makes them a better person, they probably have some other strange ideas about the real worth of people.