Voices of the Bay: Portsmouth’s Foot Sizing Professional Richard Johnson

Armed with a Brannock Device, the expert shares tips for finding the best fit


Portsmouth resident Richard Johnson has spent his career sizing his customers’ feet. If he had his way, everyone would have their feet properly fitted for length and width, which he believes would reduce the number of plantar fasciitis surgeries and replacement procedures for hips and knees. Growing up in Brockton, MA, which was once known as Shoe City when it had close to 100 shoe manufacturing companies in operation, Johnson started working as an office boy for the King Size Co. shoe factory as a teenager. He eventually made his way onto the showroom floor sizing customers with his trusted Brannock Device, a foot-measurement tool developed in 1923, which he has been using for 60 years. In 1964, Johnson opened A Proper Fit in Assonet, MA and relocated to Fall River in 2005. A devastating water leak in the building two years ago forced him to close his storefront, but he continues to fit longtime customers by appointment in Portsmouth.

PROPER FIT: Medical studies show that 90 percent of people with foot pain and damage are wearing shoes too short and too wide. When I fit shoes, your foot is perfectly flat, not flat footed, just flat on the ground and the toes can function. I teach people to know the natural length and width of their feet. When shoes fit, legs are perfectly straight, knees are in a proper position. It’s like doing a handstand – all the fingers have to be extended to do that handstand. People’s feet are like that. If not, it blows out the knees and hips.

WIDTH MATTERS: You have to know your width. Someone says, “I thought I was 8-wide,” and I fit them and they are actually 9.5-narrow. Look at models today – they are all bowlegged, which means the knees are not coming together and from there down to the ankles the legs are twisting out, which causes issues with knees and hips, varicose veins, and heel pain. This is a disaster and doctors aren’t doing anything to prevent it.

LITTLE FEET: In 1970, the American Medical Association said it was okay for children to wear sneakers to school. Before, children could only wear sneakers for gym class. Today you see little children wearing sneakers with Velcro straps. None of those sneakers fit properly. Why haven’t there been children’s shoe stores in the last 12-15 years? Why aren’t the pediatricians concerned about this? Pediatricians used to watch children walk and if children “toed in,” the doctor would insert “cookies,” which are arch supports so as you were growing, you would start walking correctly. 

THE WALK: I have a customer try out different shoes and watch them walk. If I am satisfied, I show them their footprint and I start customizing the inside of the sneaker or shoe by using felt pads to create arch support which can be adjusted as their foot starts changing shape and the toes are stretching out. Why would a running shoe store not offer narrow running shoes? There is no support in Crocs and Hokas, and foot doctors are allowing it to happen. I just want people to realize there is a natural solution for foot problems and pain.



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