LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- At the Kentucky Derby each year, it's all about the hats. But it also could be all about the shoes if you head out of town to what may be America's shoe mecca -- the Zappos Fulfillment Centers.
Located about 20 miles outside of Louisville are the warehouses for the online shoe giant and its discount sister site 6pm Outlet, which will test your shopping stamina and powers of concentration. The outlet store has at least 25,000 products, mostly shoes, on display at all times.
I'm betting a strong mint julep you'll take a chance on buying designer shoes and boots at nearly 75 percent off.
The idea for creating the mega online store grew out of a frustrating mall shopping trip that Nick Swinmurn took in San Francisco in 1999. When he returned home, he also had no luck finding what he wanted in an online search. So he quit his day job and started the online store that aimed to offer everything. In 2009, it joined Amazon.com and, with further growth, broke into 10 company divisions in 2010.
While the company's headquarters are in Henderson, Nev., its merchandise is stored in and shipped from the fulfillment center warehouses in Shepherdsville, Ky., chosen because of the town's central location to deliver goods quickly to customers -- a goal company officials believe keep it ahead of the competition.
During a visit there on the morning of April 30, my goal was to find new winter boots because like most women, I don't like it when my feet get cold. Besides, winter lasts forever in dear old Pizza Burgh.
First, I grabbed a large bag and surveyed the merchandise in aisles marked with sizes 9, 91/2 and 10. It's useful to have a bag because you can pick the merchandise off the racks and, if you're lucky, sit down on a couch or a stool to try them on. The bag also eliminates the need to carry boxes and boxes of shoes around, which can be awkward.
Don't worry if you're wearing tennis shoes with athletic socks. There are baskets of stockings to put on your feet while you try on different pairs.
I quickly rejected many styles because the heels were too high or the color did not fit into my daily wardrobe. Honestly, how many times will you wear gold faille pumps? Maybe that's an essential part of a steel magnolia's ensemble, but a journalist driven by deadlines is thinking about comfort, durability and quality.
So, after an hour on the hunt, I bought six pairs, all in my favorite shade of black.
My big score was a pair of warm-lined, mid-calf Santana boots that retailed for $219.95. I paid $52.80.
Next I found a pair of knee-high, thinsulate-lined boots made by David Tate, a designer whose name was new to me. But the high quality of leather, stitching and construction were apparent. The boots retailed for $189.90. I paid $45.60.
Turns out David Tate is the name of a company founded by four brothers from a family of traditional shoemakers. The head designer is David Tatiossian. and the company is based in Sun Valley, Calif.
I could not resist the suede Anne Klein loafers that retailed for $78.95. They cost $32.
I debated whether to buy Rockport ballerina flats with a darling bow at the front and an Adidas insert for comfort. Just then, my dear husband, Mark, who sat waiting patiently on a black couch, weighed in with an important news bulletin -- all shoes whose brand name started with the letter R were $29 that day. That settled it.
Even a journalist dresses up now and then, so I chose a pair of black faille slings with patent heels by David Tate. Normally priced at $84.90, they cost $34.
Finally, I tried on a pair of Ros Hommerson pumps that retailed for $108.45. Did they look too much like an old lady's shoe, I asked a nearby female customer?
Oh no, she assured me. Oh no, my husband echoed.
So, I paid $26.10 for the pumps.
My total expenditure was $232.67.
Emma, the perky cashier who rang up the sale, told me I had saved $568.65.
And we still had time to stroll through the Cherokee Art Fair!
If you're going, the warehouse is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Telephone is 1-502-921-4949. Address is 376 Zappos.com Blvd., Shepherdsville, Ky. From Louisville, take I-65 South to Exit 116. Go east on Highway 480 and turn left into the parking lot.
Marylynne Pitz: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1648.