From humble beginnings come big, big things. At over 10,000 square feet, and featuring a selection of over 400 shoes at any given time, Running Free in Markham, Ontario has grown from an “underground” idea into the largest specialty store in the country.
Looking back, it’s no surprise that co-owner Nick Capra would become a successful player in the running shoe game. At just twelve years old, Nick saw an opportunity to make a little spending money selling running shoes that would have otherwise been thrown out. From a small stall in a Toronto subway station, Nick moved to selling shoes in southern Ontario flea markets. It was then, at 17, that he met John Posta, and their shared passion for running shoes has kept them business partners for over 30 years.
“We were both so amazed at the technology at the time,” Nick recalls. “We had these ideas of covering the world’s feet with running shoes!”
And through their unique approach to business, they’ve kept true to those ideals.
“A successful business does more than just make money,” Nick believes. “It’s imperative to be involved in the community. It’s where you end up growing roots.” One of the proudest ways they’ve stayed involved is through their Re-Use Shoes Program. When customers are finished with their old pair, Running Free makes sure that those shoes don’t go to waste.
“Since we began in 1997, we’ve diverted hundreds of thousands of shoes from ending up in landfills and put them on the feet of people who really need them,” Nick says. “At first, we were sending container loads to Africa and Haiti. Now, our country is in more need than ever before, so most of the footwear we collect is staying here at home.”
Home is important to Running Free. Staff are like family – some have been with the company for over 20 years – and the personalized way they make the customers feel at home is a key to their success. “It’s really getting to know our customers,” Nick says. “Understanding their life and what they’ll be using their shoes for. Over the years, so many people have come through the doors and we still know their names.”
Just another good reason to make the trip to Running Free in Markham. And don’t forget to bring your old shoes.