Make us your home page

Quality, service are key to independent shoe store's survival

SPRING HILL — Scores of stores across Hernando County sell shoes, says Joshua Hnilica. Among them, a small independent shoe store is tucked into an eight-unit strip plaza, nearly hidden behind a skyline of signs along Spring Hill Drive. This store has not only survived, but this month also celebrates its 10th anniversary.

"It's the quality of our footwear," said Hnilica, 26, manager of Shoe Comfort II.

His father, John Hnilica, is the owner and operator of Ed's Shoe Repair, a Port Richey institution where the family has sold and repaired shoes for 36 years. Joshua's grandfather founded the business when he learned the cobbler's trade in the 1950s.

With its three-generation history, the family knows quality and comfort make a perfect pair of shoes.

"I don't carry a product unless I try it myself," Joshua Hnilica said, "or someone I trust, usually my mother, and she's the hardest person in the world to fit."

Shoe Comfort II stocks fewer than a dozen brands of shoes, manufacturers the Hnilicas know well for their solid materials and detailed construction techniques.

For instance, Naot women's shoes ($90 to $150) are handmade individually in Israel, their sandals with a natural cork insole that molds to the owner's feet.

"So, it's almost like buying an orthopedic shoe," Hnilica said.

The shop carries only U.S.-made New Balance athletic shoes. Its top-of-the-line is the NB 1540 ($150), "one of the best shoes New Balance has ever produced, and it can be repaired," he said.

The New Balance 847 V2 women's athletic shoe ($125) is the store's No. 1 seller among all brands and styles. It's a "medical-grade walking shoe," the result of seven iterations. "It's not only very comfortable, but it's cute," Hnilica said of the snappy white model trimmed in pastel blue.

Otherwise, he acknowledged, some of the best-built shoes look a bit, well, clunky.

"Style is an afterthought," he said.

A shoe's higher purpose is to secure foot health. Many of the shop's customers make their first visit on the recommendation of a doctor.

"We work with doctors to see their needs, and we can adjust our stock accordingly," Hnilica said.

Whether a sandal, casual or dress shoe, every model offers arch support, "which everybody needs," Hnilica emphasized.

To determine fit, Hnilica brandishes the Brannock device, the standard measuring device for the footwear industry since 1926.

"It's an old-school kind of thing," he said, "but a great starting point."

With the customer then shod according to Brannock readings, Hnilica presses thumb to shoe toe, with his hand spanning the instep, feeling for appropriate roominess. He learned the advisable degree "from 16 years of my dad looking over my shoulder and telling me no, that's not the way to do it." Personal preference plays a role, too, he said. Some people want a tight shoe; others prefer a softer fit.

The shop's customers are generally older, those who grew up with a foot on the Brannock. Many come with a recommendation from a podiatrist; others learned of the shop via word from satisfied clients. Some respond to the sign "Shoe Repairs," which are performed at the Port Richey location.

Even if a shopper fails to make a purchase, the person leaves with an education on shoe fitting and perhaps a handout on foot fitness.

Said Hnilica: "I try to help every person who comes through the door. That's why I love my job."

Contact Beth Gray at

. fast facts

Shoe Comfort II

What: High-end women's and men's shoes

Where: 10517 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and

9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays

Phone: (352) 688-9979


Quality, service are key to independent shoe store's survival 11/11/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 11, 2015 4:02pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  2. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood


    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  3. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa


    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  4. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county


    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.
  5. Honda denies covering up dangers of Takata air bags


    With just a third of the defective Takata air bag inflators replaced nationwide, the corporate blame game of who will take responsibility — and pay — for the issue has shifted into another gear.

    Honda is denying covering up dangers of Takata air bags. | [Scott McIntyre, New York Times]