SHAQUILLE O'NEAL (size 22D) has been a customer since he was 14. Don King spent $64,100 on a spree in 1995, and Oprah has done three segments on the store. For more than 30 years Friedman's Shoes in downtown Atlanta has catered to the large-footed man. The nondescript, three-level store features designer brands such as Steve Madden and Cole Haan, and Friedman's own line. There's also a "skins room," for shoes made from alligator, lizard, snake and ostrich. Many shoes go for as little as $50 (when you buy two pairs), but a snazzy gator skin, size 17, will set you back $895.
When Phillip Friedman opened the store in 1929, it sold used shoes. In 1958 Bruce Teilhaber (above), Friedman's son-in-law, who eventually took over the store in '72, began buying odd lots of shoes, which included "oversizers." He discovered a huge demand for loafers as big as the Santa Maria, and word spread to pro athletes from many sports. These days Friedman's clients include Willie McGinest, Lennox Lewis, Gary Sheffield and Chris Webber. In 1982 Friedman's opened a women's store down the block, where WNBA players--and Shaq's mom, Lucille (size 13)--shop.
Though you can often see superstars prowling the aisles, nearly 50% of Friedman's annual sales comes through the store's website, www.largefeet.com. However they shop, athletes are Friedman's best customers. When the Celtics played the Hawks on Jan. 22, forward Ricky Davis spent more than $600 on six pairs of shoes, including Steve Maddens and Mezlans. "I knew what I wanted to get, and I knew they would have it," he said. And before Shaq (left) got married in 2002 he bought all his groomsmen $1,000 black Fa Cri King Tail alligator shoes and a pair for himself. "When I was 14 I couldn't afford their shoes so Friedman's gave me them for free," says Shaq. "The only promise [Teilhaber] made me make was if I ever made it to the pros, I would come to him to get my shoes." --Sarah Thurmond
TWO COLOR PHOTOS
GREG FOSTER (2, FRIEDMAN'S AND SHOE);
ELSA/GETTY IMAGES (KING);
SCOTT HARRISON/GETTY IMAGES (SHAQ);