By Christopher Cudworth
What follows is not so much an endorsement as a bit of documentation of a long-standing relationship. I purchased my first pair of shoes from a man named Dick Pond in 1976. At the time he was building his business and sold shoes out of his garage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Dick Pond was himself both an avid and quality runner, so he knew running better than the average Joe, and certainly had more shoes to offer than your typical local sporting goods stores. In 1976 running stores did not really exist, but Dick Pond helped create the concept.
The chain of stores now known as Dick Pond Athletics sells running shoes and wrestling shoes. I know, an odd combination in some ways. But not really. Where else are you going to order good wrestling shoes if not from a store that stocks the best? Runners and wrestlers also seem to have something in common. Both are individual sports with team competitions. And a wrestling coach in the John Irving novel Hotel New Hampshire was quoted, “You got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.” That fits both runners and wrestlers. Cyclists too. Obsession serves one well in the pursuit of achievement. Normally…
Time to buy new shoes
Like most runners, I always try to get a few more miles out of my shoes than I should. But when your hips and knees start to hurt, it’s time to wise up and spend some money on new shoes. Recently the question was posed to a LinkedIN group how often runners change shoes, and how many pairs they rotate. One rather obsessed fellow admitted he rotated 14 different pairs. Well, I have 14 pairs lying around the house in various sorts of worn out disrepair, but would not rotate any of those back into my running routine. Still, it made the point that we should probably all rotate at least two pairs of shoes, perhaps three for optimum health.
I always did that when running really high mileage weeks. It makes sense when you’re popping 80-100 mile weeks back to back and over months of time to rotate shoes daily. They need time to rebound, and so do your legs. Different types of shoes bring subtle changes in stride as well. Even if you alternate shoes within the same brand or even the same model, there are differences in their construction. Subtle perhaps, but still a reality.
Runners have wised up to the fact that changing shoes every day and buying new pairs after 500-700 miles of wear is a good thing. But when you’re young and broke and hammering away through high school or college you do the best you can. That means you need to be smart about the shoes you buy, and a running shop like Dick Pond or one of the hundreds of other running specialty shops across the nation is an important resource even for expert runners.
Recognition of quality
Recently Dick Pond Athletics was named one of the 50 Best Running Stores in America by Competitor Magazine. The Dick Pond business card says America’s Oldest Running and Wrestling Shoe Store. But when I think of Dick Pond it is not only the originator of the chain, Dick Pond himself, but a man named Glen Kamps that symbolizes the Dick Pond legacy.
The Glen Kamps factor
I am pretty sure Glen Kamps is powered by a perennial motion machine of some sort. When you visit the store, he is absolutely never standing still. His clear voice conducts a constant chatter greeting customers and directing his employees to make sure everyone is being served. Glen Kamps is gracious and unprepossessing from head to toe. His commitment to running and runners is unparalleled.
For years he has staffed the Dick Pond mobile shoe truck appearing at local races, high school cross country and track meets. The truck has undergone an upgrade in recent years with sporty-looking graphics but the motivation is still the same: Bring shoes to the athletes.
The strategy has worked. Marketing the chain of Dick Pond shoe stores with a guerrilla approach has worked well over the 40 years the store has been in business. Credibility is key in the business of selling running shoes, and Dick Pond Athletics is all about credibility.
The whirr of a treadmill is one of the sounds you’ll always hear inside the store. Runners throw on shoes and give them a run while Dick Pond employees eye their stride for possible recommendations on shoes. A pronator might get a little more arch support, for example, but most of all Dick Pond employees get to know their customers from head to toe and foot plant. You can see the wheels turning through the shoe inventory as each runner hits the treadmill.
Back when Dick Pond was selling shoes out of his garage, the process was simpler but no less insightful. You showed up at the garage and walked among the tall stacks of shoes while Dick eyed you up and down, asking questions about your running and racing. He was an astute observer of character who knew the top personalities in the sport. A copy of a letter he had written to Phil Knight at Blue Ribbon Sports in 1972 talks about the early days of Nike, with references to Jeff Johnson and the urgency of getting shoes in wide size ranges and styles. It also says, “Thanks for the special Nike Spikes for Craig Virgin, our great young distance runner. I have not yet received an invoice for them and please understand that I fully expected to be billed for them.”
Craig Virgin was Illinois state cross country champion in 1972 with a still-record 13:51 for three miles. He would go on to set state and national records at 2 miles and become world cross country champion.
Yet Virgin is just one of hundreds of top quality distance runners to pass through the various doors of Dick Pond Athletics. They include state and national and world champions over the years. Some of their signed posters adorn the walls at Dick Pond.
The people’s running store
That is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to who the chain really serves. Champion athletes are great, but runners from all types and backgrounds make up the bulk of business for the chain. Obviously the store is closely involved in support of races such as the highly successful Fox Valley Marathon, a relatively new race starting and finishing in St. Charles, Illinois. The race is popular for many reasons, but one is the option of choosing how far you actually want to go the very morning of the race! You can opt for a Half-Marathon, 20 miles or Marathon distance when you show up to run. Many of Dick Pond’s avid customers run and complete the race, which fits with the philosophy of teaching many runners how to succeed. The shop hosts running classes and pace groups, all in keeping with the modern philosophy of the sport. Everyone counts.
40 years and going strong
It really hasn’t changed in 40 years. Dick Pond himself would greet you at his garage if you called ahead. If you forgot to call, as a group of us once did on a late Sunday afternoon, Dick might turn out a little cranky. But you learned that was his prerogative, especially if he’d been relaxing with a few beers inside his home. I recall showing up eager to buy shoes only to get smacked down a bit by a taciturn Pond who groused, “You really need to call if you’re coming on a Sunday.”
But then he set about helping us find the shoes we needed. I can remember the pair I bought, a resplendent pair of NIKE LDVs with weird flared heels, yellow uppers and a simply NIKE swoosh on the side. Their were weird contraptions, those LDVs, built on the principle that wider was better.
The pair of Nike Vomeros that I just bought owe some lineage to those shoes. They bear the same Waffle treads, a slight flare to the cushioned bottom and that classic NIKE swoosh. I even got married in NIKEs, and gave them to the groomsman as well. But those shoes I bought from the Running Unlimited store (then in Arlington Heights, now in Palatine) where I worked at the time.
The retail reality
You learn a few things about runners and cyclists by working at a real retail store like that. The quirks and buying habits of people are endless. Then you realize you are just as quirky in your own tastes and habits. It is the job of every successful retail running and cycling store to field those quirks and funnel them into the right gear and shoes like a shoehorn slipping a foot into a shoe. Some things about running and riding never change. And that’s a good thing.
Tomorrow: How buying cycling gear differs from buying running gear.