Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Is The Tide Turning For Barefooters? REI Stores Set The Example.

A member of The Society for Barefoot Living, John, from the Boston area, just had an amazing victory at REI stores (outdoor recreational supplies). He had been declined service due to being barefoot at an REI store and then sent a letter to the president of the company. It's kind of long, but I wanted to copy his entire report, which is well worth reading:

Hello Everyone,

As some of you may know I sent a letter to the president of REI and within a few weeks got a phone message from the Mountain\Eastern territory Retail Director.

I have called the director back several times over the last couple of weeks (leaving messages) and also sent her two emails. As of yesterday morning I had heard nothing and just hoped that she was busy.

Well, at around lunchtime, she called me back. She apologized, saying that she was on a trip. I'll need to paraphrase most of this because I can only remember her exact words in a few places. My head is still spinning.

First she apologized for my treatment in the store. I thanked her and assured her that I was not upset, just disappointed since I really like the store. I also assured her that the store manager was polite and professional with me at all times. Then she said, "You really got us all thinking here". and continued to explain that they are aware of the barefoot running and hiking movements and they know some people go barefoot for health reasons. OK, so far so good.

The director said that she asked store managers how many barefoot customers they see come through the stores. Sure enough, some managers reported barefoot customers. The store with the most barefooters seemed to be one in Colorado, right in the same state as her office.

She then said that they looked through the company policies and, although many in upper management THOUGHT bare feet would be excluded from the stores, they found no such statement. She called it a "phantom policy which only existed people's minds".

She said the next worry they addressed was, "You know, we sell food... and you've got the whole health code thing". I asked her what they found. She said, "Well, we found that there are no health codes out there that would stop a customer with bare feet". Wow, this was starting to sound pretty good. Maybe they found that info on our site :)

She said that next they considered liability issues. She said that just like "our phantom dress policy", which so many people thought existed, "we had people worrying about phantom injuries, things people thought could happen but really probably wouldn't".

I would guess the ice axe fits this category pretty well :)

She said they sorted out the things that really could happen and little by little realized that the stores were actually pretty safe. She said they researched old records looking for customer injuries as related to what might happen to a bare foot. They found one real injury in the records. Someone stepped on an inventory control pin and put it into their foot. And, she said, "that guy was wearing flip flops... and he still got stuck". She said the store personnel already know to keep them off the floor.

[Note: Inventory control pins are those plastic mushroom heads with a sharp nail about an inch long sticking out. They stick through garments and lock into the electronic alarm tags. I HAVE seen them on the floor in stores, pin facing up, but it's not too common. They are a bad design. We know why the guy got stuck. he was wearing sh@@s, was careless, and couldn't feel the pin until it was too late.]

The lady then said that they reached the conclusion that it is not necessary to prohibit barefoot shoppers and that they notified the managers of the stores, telling them to instruct the workers as such. Wow, I still can't believe this...

The lady said, "We want you back as a customer and you are welcome to shop barefoot".

She then asked that I stop by the counter and ask for the manager on my next visit to the store. If it's not the same guy, she wants me to introduce myself and tell him that I'm a barefooter. She wants the managers to get to know me. The manager that I already met should be expecting me and the staff should have already been instructed. She said, "You won't have any more trouble.”

And THAT, my friends, is how it should be. If there is an REI near you, Go There! And Go Barefoot!


  1. That's awesome that they made it an official store policy. I've been going barefoot to most stores, including REI, for the last two years. The only place I have ever had any trouble was a Fresh N Easy grocery store

  2. I've had the same problem at Fresh N Easy stores! It's just this one person, but she's (politely) asked me to wear shoes for health/safety reasons. Next time, I'm going to tell her it's a against my religion. Or maybe that I don't wear them for health/safety reasons. We'll see.. :)

  3. John has recently reported that when he went back to the store, he was treated almost like a celebrity, along with an apology from the manager. Also, it so happens that on that very day they were having some kind of special event going on at the store, so some media reporters were there, and one of them asked him for an interview. I'm looking forward to hearing how that goes and the results.

  4. Megumi, Fresh & Easy stores are owned by Tesco of the UK. When they opened a new store in southern California about 4 years ago, I talked to the local manager about the "shoes and shirts required" sign on the door. He told me that regardless of the sign, I was welcome barefoot. That was OK, but such signs just perpetuate the notion that bare feet are "bad." So I wrote to the district office about the sign and received a letter which included,

    "Although you may have valid reason for not wearing shoes, we must take into consideration how the lack of such a policy may affect the overall shopping experience of our customers as a whole...[ ]
    We do make every reasonable effort to assist or accommodate any customer with special needs...[ ]
    We are not prepared to change our policy regarding shirts and shoes at this time."

    I wrote back and got no answer. I then wrote to the president of Tesco in England, and again got no answer.

  5. Hi I am J. G. of BEWA, the Barefoot Everywhere World Awareness Association. I am so pleased to see the open-mindedness of the corporate office at REI to even consider barefoot patrons. I will be adding This company to our barefoot friendly stores.

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  16. He had been declined service due to being barefoot at an REI store and then sent a letter to the president of the company.
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Welcome to The Barefoot Professor blog, intelligent talk about running, walking and living barefoot. I encourage your comments, even if you disagree with me. In this spirit I don't even moderate the comments. However, PLEASE use critical thinking skills when leaving comments, and avoid inflammatory words. Please keep your comments short and to-the-point. THANKS.