Miami didn’t always have a running scene.
In the 1970s, John “Hans” Huseby would walk from store to store looking for the perfect pair of sneakers, but he couldn’t find a salesman to help him.
“They had no idea,” said Huseby, now 62 . “They were clueless. Running was not in fashion.”
But running was his new passion, so in 1975, he and his wife Laurie Huseby, 62, transformed the family business, a shoe store in South Miami, into a running specialty store.
“We knew that if we give our costumers the kind of attention we did when we sold the shoes we would be successful,” Hans Huseby said.
And they were. Their FootWorks store completes 40 years on May 15, and their non-profit, Team FootWorks, produced the Mercedes-Benz Corporate Run in Miami since 1985.
They also organized the runs in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. The Miami run happens at 6:45 p.m. Thursday at Bayfront Park. Some 25,000 people from 900 companies are expected to participate.
But it wasn’t always easy. The Husebys had to chase their success.
Laurie Huseby’s father, Sheldon Boehm, opened the store in 1973 to sell Earth Shoes, a new type of shoe designed by a yoga instructor to improve posture and reduce joint stress.
Earth Shoes went out of business and Boehm died in 1975.
The couple transformed the store into FootWorks, but right next to it there was a two-story general sports store, Zipp Sporting Goods. Huseby tried to make an agreement with them and sell different brands, but it didn’t work.
The general sports store put up a sign advertising all athletic shoes for one-third off.
“I went there and asked, ‘For how long are you going to have this promotion? You are hurting me,’ ” Hans Huseby said. “They said, ‘As long as we need to put you out of business.’ ”
It didn’t work.
Zipp eventually closed down, and FootWorks kept growing along with the running community.
The Husebys started a runners club in 1977 with 12 people meeting in their living room. Since then, they organized running events, and in 1994 they started Team FootWorks.
Through the nonprofit, they organize free fitness programs, including yoga classes, weekly runs, and training for full and half marathons. They estimate that about 1,000 people participate in the programs every year.
“Team FootWorks is directly responsible for building the running community,” said Josh Liebman, vice mayor of South Miami and programs director at the nonprofit. “The running community used to be FootWorks.”
In South Miami, in some ways, it still is.
Every Sunday, they set up a little cooler and give away water bottles for the runners.
“It’s part of doing something for the people that support us,” said Laurie Huseby. “It can’t just be about you. You have to be thinking of others and how we can help others.”
Cookie Thelen, 68, bought the first pair of Earth Shoes from Boehm in 1973. She witnesses the growth of the store after it became FootWorks two years later.
“They were the catalyst to an awful lot of running,” said Thelen. “They started small and have kept it up until it’s a big part of the community right now.”
While Hans Huseby stopped running and started practicing karate because of an injury 20 years ago, Laurie Huseby and Thelen still run together every week.