The first running boom began in 1972 when Frank Shorter won the men’s marathon at the Summer Olympics. That was also the year the Boston Marathon first permitted women into the race and the first women-only road race, the NYRR New York Mini 10K, began.
While the sport of running continued to thrive with the advent of accessible, better organized, and more inclusive road races (this was the decade, after all, that saw the first running of many iconic road races, including the New York City Marathon (1970), the Peachtree Road Race (1970), the Falmouth Road Race (1973), and the Chicago Marathon (1977)), access and availability to running shoes remained spotty across the country.
And yet, in 1976, two women decided to open a running store. Our story begins with these two women – Sally Edwards and Elizabeth Jansen. These two twenty-something-year-olds came to a depressing conclusion in the 70’s: there were very few businesses, groups, or outlets where runners could come together and find the products they needed, the inspiration they lacked, and the encouragement they craved to do the thing they loved – running. So, they made the very risky decision to open the very first Fleet Feet in Sacramento, California.
There it is – isn’t it a beauty?
Yes, that is a mail truck in the driveway. More on that in a second. But yes, that is the first Fleet Feet location – on the second floor of an old Victorian – where Sally and Elizabeth opened the doors with not much product, but a whole lot of heart and passion. That first year was rough – not many vendors would open accounts with this new store – particularly as it was run by two women – but they scraped and they scrapped… And over the course of the first year, they clawed their way to a profitable year (the profits of which were kept in – cliché alert – an old shoebox).
The store became more than just a running store. It became the hub of the running community. A place where runners could gather with friends, go for runs and see the latest in product innovations.
Over the course of that time, an idea took hold – could more communities benefit from this type of running hub in their neighborhood?
Requests had started to come into Sally and Elizabeth to open more locations in California. And at some point, the two of them realized that franchising was the correct route for Fleet Feet. For if the community was the body, and the physical location of the store the muscle, the local owner would serve as the heart and soul of the store and community, the lifeblood that kept runners inspired, empowered and moving. And so more locations began opening…
Remember that mail truck in the driveway?
That’s what Sally and Elizabeth had originally used to drive around to high schools, trails – wherever there were runners they could outfit with the latest gear out of the literal trunk of the car – or in this case, van – they appeared. That postal van eventually morphed into the ever-so-80s-car of…
...an Astro Van, and while the car may have changed, the intent – to serve the community – did not. Sally and Elizabeth had opened their doors of a house back in 1976 to welcome runners, and when those runners couldn’t make it to the house, they met them where they were in the community, a model of local support and sweat equity that other owners across the country embodied and embraced. And thus, Fleet Feet’s reputation as a major contributor to – and builder of – running communities was established.
45 Years Later
We've expanded to 185 stores in 37 states across the country.
Each Fleet Feet store is made up of local owners, operating partners, and employees who work tirelessly to serve their customers and communities. From outfitting a customer for a pair of new shoes to encouraging runners through a megaphone at local races, you'll find these leaders everywhere. They do this because they believe running has the power to change people – and communities – for the better.
The Secret Sauce Remains Unchanged
As you can see from a few of the photos above, the business has evolved immensely over the years – from the look and feel of the stores, the length of shorts, or even the logo.
But the one thing that has not changed is the secret sauce of the brand – YOU – the people. Helping people conquer their goals at every level, on every surface, at every distance with personalized solutions, inspiration, and knowledge. A commitment to going above and beyond and creating amazing customer experience moments.
Tomorrow (June 1st), we celebrate the 45th birthday of Fleet Feet. Sally and Elizabeth were the pioneers that launched the brand. But each of you is equally a part of the story and the brand's success. It is your passion and commitment that continues to separate Fleet Feet from everyone else.
You are amazing, and it is humbling to work alongside you in this journey called Fleet Feet.