When Ramon Rivera and Nicole Barber bought Little Feet Shoes earlier this year, it represented more than just a new business venture for the couple.
They consider it their opportunity to help others the way the store helped them.
Located on S.R. 56 in front of Sam’s Club, Little Feet is a shoe store just for children, carrying brand name shoes and more with sizes that fit infants and toddlers up to boys and girls size 6, in regular, wide and extra-wide widths.
For Ramon and Nicole, who are married with three children, Little Feet is a place that helped their middle daughter, Sophia, as she learned to deal with a sensory processing disorder.
Back in 2012, Nicole says that Sophia never wanted to put her shoes on. Sometimes it took 30 minutes to get them on her feet to get out the door in the morning, sometimes even longer.
Ramon and Nicole were tired, stressed and frustrated when Sophia began therapy and they learned that socks and shoes are a common trigger for kids like Sophia.
It was a therapist who suggested they take Sophia to Little Feet, which carried sensory-friendly brands, and have a fitting with then-owner Diana Ciccarelli, who was known to get on the floor with the kids and help them find the perfect shoes, showing patience as they tried on endless pairs, if necessary.
It was just what Sophia needed.
Diana passed away last year, leaving the future of the store uncertain.
“Our daughter was devastated,” says Nicole. “She was so upset as she asked us, ‘Where am I going to get shoes?’”
As an orthopaedic nurse, Nicole also knows how hard it can be for kids with orthotic braces to find shoes that fit over the braces. Little Feet carries those hard-to-find shoes, and helps each kid find the perfect fit.
So, when the store became available for purchase, Nicole and Ramon say they jumped at the chance to buy it.
Shoes For All Children
While Little Feet can be life changing for children with special needs, Ramon and Nicole emphasize that the store carries great shoes for all children.
Top-quality brands, specialty shoes and current favorite trends are all available at Little Feet. Some of the store’s most popular brands include Tsukihoshi, Pediped, Stride Rite, Mini Melissa, Livie and Luca, New Balance, Sperry, Saucony, and Plae.
“We carry everything from trendy shoes to formal shoes, or something that’s fun for parties, to school shoes in specific colors and specialized shoes for kids who need them,” explains Ramon.
Nicole adds that the store sells washable shoes, too, which can be a great benefit for a toddler who is potty training.
Little Feet also offers Capezio dance shoes, leotards and tights, and carries socks and bows.
Many customers travel long distances to get to the store, which is local to Neighborhood News readers.
“We are the only kids’ shoe store in the Tampa Bay area,” explains Ramon. “We have customers who come from Dunedin, Tarpon Springs and South Tampa.”
He says similar stores have closed because people no longer appreciate how important it is to have kids’ feet sized for proper growth and long-term development.
“In other stores,” he says, “it’s up to the parents to figure out what size shoe to buy their children.”
Parents don’t always do a great job of it. In fact, even Ramon and Nicole were once parents who didn’t know what size shoes their children needed.
“The first time I came in to Little Feet, my kid was in shoes that were two sizes too small,” laughs Nicole. “I had no idea.”
Ramon explains that kids can’t often articulate the problem with their shoes. They just take them off. However, he says, it’s really important for a child’s foot development to get them in the right size right away.
“Their bones are very soft, so if they’re in the wrong shoe, you can actually have damage,” Ramon explains.
“We provide a lot of education,” adds Nicole. She says they also encourage kids to run around the store to try out the shoes thoroughly. Plus, the shoes they carry have more stability, promoting proper balance.
Erin Guilbeault is a mom to a six-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter. She says she’s been buying her kids shoes at Little Feet for the past couple of years.
“I love their selection and how patient they are when it takes a while,” she says. “Sometimes it’s a few minutes and sometimes it’s an hour. Everyone is always really helpful and lets them try on as many pairs as they need to find the perfect (shoes).”
Nicole is the first to admit that she has a lot to learn about running a shoe store. She gives credit to Alexis and Robin (see photo on previous page), employees of the store who have been there for about three years now, for teaching and helping her.
“They kept the store going through the transition, before we bought it,” says Nicole. “If it wasn’t for them, Little Feet would have had to close its doors.”
In fact, Erin says if she hadn’t heard that the previous owner had passed away, she probably wouldn’t have even known the store had been sold, because she says the transition has been seamless and the customer service has remained consistently excellent.
So, Little Feet remains open and ready to be discovered by families who want high-quality, trendy and fun footwear, fit by an expert.
“From a business standpoint, we’re hoping this model works,” says Ramon. “Others have given up on it, but we want to bring it back and even expand it. We hope to be able to allow people to purchase online, too, but they can still come in and get fitted for the right size.”
Erin says she will continue to take advantage of all that Little Feet has to offer.
“I kind of wish I had found them sooner,” says Erin. “I go in there and there are all these adorable toddler shoes. I’m going to be sad when my kids outgrow them someday.”
Sales and promotions are often announced on Facebook and Instagram, along with photos of some of the store’s in-stock shoes. Search “Little Feet Shoes” on either social media platform.
Little Feet is located at 27607 S.R. 56 (next to Wolf’s Den, in front of Sam’s Club). The store is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 10 a.m.–6 p.m. on Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call (813) 991-1785 or visit LittleFeetShoes.net.