TOWNSHEND -- Terri Walton is a custom shoe maker with one foot in the future and one foot in the past.
Walk into her studio, Deer Ridge Custom Footwear, in Townshend, and you could be back in a shop in Italy 400 years ago.
There is a rich smell of leather and the steady sounds of stitching when her apprentices are in action.
Sharp knives and scissors snip away.
Every shoe is made by a human.
At the same time Walton's clients are all over the country and get their shoe models developed with modern methods.
They can download templates over the Internet and receive their shoes by next day priority mail.
Walton made her first pair of shoes about 10 years ago to relieve her own pain, and the experience, she said, changed her life and set her on a new path of her own.
Today she makes handmade custom shoes in her Townshend studio for clients all over the country, for what she says are one of the least appreciated and understood parts of the human body.
"The feet are the foundation of your life, and if they are not working right then you are missing out on reaching your potential," said Walton. "Our mission is to get you back doing what you love."
Deer Ridge Custom Footwear produces handmade walking and hiking shoes, in what Walton says is one of the only shops in the country.
While there are cowboy boot makers and hiking shoe makers, she says her shop produces shoes tailored to exactly what the client needs.
The walking shoes are stylish and unique, and she can produce just about any style requested.
More than a decade ago Walton was working for the state of Vermont, in the birth to three program, when the arthritis in her own feet was getting worse and preventing her from walking and leading the active lifestyle she was accustomed to.
She made herself a custom pair of shoes that she says changed her life and allowed her to resume activities.
Walton says realizing what a good pair of shoes could do, and also understanding that she could play a role in helping others, convinced her to make a career shift and begin walking down a new road.
"When I was able to relieve myself of pain I decided that I needed to start a business and help other people," she said. "The first time I made shoes was akin to giving birth to my first child. I decided that I needed to help others find healing and comfort."
She went to a program at the Chicago Medical School.
She learned to make shoes with Randy Merrell, a well known shoe maker who developed his own brand of hiking boots.
Then she invested in the equipment and has had a waiting list for her shoes ever since.
She recently opened an office in Brattleboro, at 220 Western Avenue, though she encourages clients to visit the shop in Townshend.
Tafi Brown, who lives near Keene, N.H., first saw Walton about three years ago.
She went to Walton's shop after her doctor recommended that she look into investing in the custom shoes when nothing else was helping her.
Brown describes herself as "a multi-tasking professional artist, dancer and gardener."
"I stand a lot. I move a lot. I work in the woods and I walk a lot," she said. "I can't say good-bye to my physical life simply because I am getting older."
She purchased a pair of shoes, and then returned about a year later to get a custom pair of work boots.
Brown said Walton puts as much time and care into talking about her feet and shoes as she did making them, and the enthusiastic walker, dancer and gardener says the shoes changed her life.
"After having had such a painful time walking, I was a little bit surprised to find that with my new shoes that fit my feet properly it seemed I could walk forever with no pain," she said. "I have never had happier feet before in my whole life."
The shoes are expensive, with the average pair of shoes costing about $825, but Walton says when the options include not being able to walk, dance or hike, clients find a way to make the investment.
The initial visit can take up to two hours as Walton observes how the client walks and stands and she talks about needs and goals.
Models and imprints are taken and mock ups are produced until Walton and her workers have a perfect fit.
Then the work starts.
"Everything is made here," she says. "Each one is different, each person has individual needs and each shoe is made with that in mind."
For many people, Walton says, when they have health issues with the feet surgery is the only option they consider.
In many cases a proper pair of well fitting shoes can help.
"Our feet are our second heart. They are that important," says Walton. "If you have pain in your feet you aren't going anywhere."
For more information go to www.orthopediccustomshoes.com
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.