Melissinos, The Poet Sandal-MakerOn September 5, 2016 by Meg
Months before departing on our trip, I knew one of my stops in Athens would be Melissinos Sandal Shop. I also knew that Scott would be bored out of his mind there, so I would have to either go without him, or make it a short stop – no matter how accommodating Scott was trying to be. As it turned out, being husbandless that first morning gave me the perfect opportunity to stroll Plaka in the direction of Melissinos.
Thankfully, it was easy to find, just north of Ermou street (prime shopping street) on Agias Theklas. There is even a poster on Ermou on the corner, if you are looking for it:
As I arrived, the shop was just opening up, with one man still setting up the outdoor displays. Even entering the store only minutes after opening, there was already a party of 4 people trying on sandals, and by the time I left two more groups had entered. Further, this is not a large shop. At all. I can see where it can get quite crowded, quite quickly, so coming at an ‘off’ time isn’t a bad idea. As of this writing, the store hours are 10am-8pm every day, so take that into consideration.
So, probably a question is, what’s the big deal? Why did I want to come here? Why do so many do so? A lot of it is for the history of the shop and the person of Melissinos. Pantelis Melissinos’ grandfather, Georgios, started his shoe business in 1920 and ever since, the Melissinos sandals have been purchased and worn by an impressive Who’s Who. The list includes Jackie Onassis, Anthony Quinn, Garry Cooper, Sophia Loren, Barbara Streisand, Lily Tomlin, the Beatles, and the Queen of Spain. Articles have been written in ladies magazines including the German Petra, Italian Panorama, and French Glamour about the traditional sandal-making technique of Melissinos’ shop. So, that’s pretty cool, and in my book worth a peak.
In addition to that, Pantelis Melissinos, who currently runs the store, is indeed a poet and writer. His work “Bacchus” is a modern Greek comedy that played for 2 years in Athens. Pantelis father, Stavros, is a published poet, and books of his are tucked onto shelves in the shop.
If all this was true, but the sandals themselves fell apart quickly or were really uncomfortable, the shop wouldn’t be worth much of a mention. But the seemingly insubstantial sandals are surprisingly comfortable. I generally gravitate toward sandals such as Clarks – with thick rubber soles and contoured brushed leather insoles. These sandals have flat, thin leather soles, but they held up to walking distances quite well. I wouldn’t do it all day every day (I’m old, I need support) but they worked very well in a rotation of sandals I used after my “broken in” canvas shoes started giving me nasty blisters.
There are a couple dozen styles of sandals in the shop, and you can ask for different sizes and styles and try on whatever you want. I was able to tell the man helping customers that I wore a “US size 9” and he pulled the equivalent size down for me with no problem. Do try on. The pair my eye was immediately drawn to was not the pair that I liked the look of the most on my feet! In addition, the sandals are not completely finished when you are trying them on. So, if you have the right size/style, but just need a certain strap to be a bit more tight or loose, that adjustment can be easily made to fit your foot. Once it works right on your foot, Pantelis is there to tap in the last nails, finishing the sandal. All this and my sandals were less than 40 euro. (Note: these nails will turn black and that color will stain your foot and the surrounding leather, but a quick coat of clear nail polish will prevent that from happening.)
While I wanted the classic blonde leather for my sandal, there are a number of fun options also, like red, or silver, or even prints. You will probably have to have these made special in your size, however when I inquired about this I was told they could do so have the sandals ready by that evening.
On my third day in Athens my feet were incredibly sore from some blisters I had gotten from the canvas shoes I had planned on wearing nearly daily. I had broken them in (so I thought) before the trip – but they couldn’t hold up to the amount of walking I was doing. So I slipped on my Melissinos, and was able to comfortably walk around all that day.
All in all, I was very satisfied. The shop itself, small as it is, is an experience for the senses. The history is fascinating and unique. And the sandals are practical and fun. Even with all of this, they were surprisingly affordable. Very happy with this stop, memory and souvenir.
Check out the shop’s website <<<HERE>>>
The Shop’s Facebook Page <<<HERE>>>
For a handy traveler’s map of our favorite stops in Plaka, see our post: Map of Top Things to Do
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