Facebook Twitter

Platform shoes give brokers more `sole’ - and a better view

SHARE Platform shoes give brokers more `sole’ - and a better view

In the hurly-burly of Chicago's Board of Trade, a broker's best asset might not be his garish jacket, frenetic arm-waving or hand signals that look like they belong on a baseball field. It might be the shoes.

Platform shoes, to be precise.Brokers, traders and clerks are wearing special black shoes with rubber soles that boost their height by up to 3 inches. The lift helps them see above the flailing arms, flashing hands and bobbing heads on the trading floor, which is big enough to hold a Boeing 747.

"I can't see over the brokers in front of me," complained Guy Radossevich, who stands 6-2 and works in the frenzied 30-year U.S. Treasury bond pit. "Even with the shoes, I can barely see - especially when it's busy."

Under the "open outcry" system pioneered in 1848, commodity traders act out a mob scene daily because they want to be noticed.

But if they can't see other traders, they won't make deals in the market where billions of dollars in contracts for future delivery of commodities such as corn, soybeans and wheat and financial instruments such as Treasury notes and bonds are up for grabs.

Board of Trade workers generally arrive in dressy shoes and change to more comfortable ones so they can stand for seven hours a day. They leave their street shoes in the shoe room, where Keith Chmieleski has been taking care of them since 1987, and selling the special Mason Shoes, made in Chippewa Falls, Wis., since 1991. He estimates he's sold 1,500 pairs; 250 last year and 270 already this year.

He charges $89 for the shoes and up to $65 to add a 1 1/2-inch sole. He says he makes a slight profit but would not be more specific.

"They're just trying to catch up to the guy next to them," he said. "Somebody gets half an inch, and the guy standing next to him gets an inch or an inch-and-a-half. It doesn't stop."

Well, it does, at three.

Chmieleski said adding more than 1 1/2 inches to the shoes, which already have a 1 1/2-inch sole, would make them unstable.

The rules forbid high platform shoes or high-heeled shoes, but it is up to floor officials to determine how high is too high, said a Board of Trade spokesman.

All his business comes by word of mouth, and Chmieleski said people visiting from Japan and London have bought his shoes as well. The shoes are against the rules on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, but he said that hasn't stopped workers from ordering them.

"They tell me they wear long pants to cover them," he said.