Bradenton’s first specialty athletic shoe store, On A Shoestring, has been making strides — literally — toward bettering the community since it first opened its doors in October 2005.
It’s more than likely that the first thing you’ll notice when you walk into the store, at 3633 Cortez Rd. W. in College Plaza, is the array of colorful athletic shoes that line the left-hand wall. However, look a little closer and you’ll note that On A Shoestring’s walls are adorned with an impressive collection of local color that rivals the number of shoes on display.
The store is involved in virtually every charitable walking or running event that takes place in the greater Manatee County community — and they have a shirt from each one pinned to the wall to prove it. On A Shoestring’s walls are also decorated with the dozens of medals that its employees have collected from the various runs in which they have participated.
“Our employees are all very passionate about the sport of walking and running,” said Steve Litschauer, who co-owns the business with his wife, Sharon. “Some of them are very competitive.”
Many of On A Shoestring’s staff members have participated in marathon events throughout the country, including the Ironman Triathalon and the Boston Marathon. Litschauer said that being passionate about running is one of the qualifications to work for his business.
“You don’t have to be the fastest by any means, but you do need to know what you’re talking about,” he said. “When you go into a golf store, you expect the people serving you to be knowledgeable about the sport of golfing. When you go to a boating store, it’s the same idea. We’re no different.”
According to Litschauer, roughly 80 percent of On A Shoestring’s staff members are trained walk-run coaches, and attributes a large part of the store's success to this passion and knowledge.
On A Shoestring does not simply cater to athletes. The store gets referrals from several local doctors whose patients require comfortable walking shoes as well as advice on healthy exercise routines.
“From the athlete to the elder who needs comfortable shoes, we have something for everyone,” Litschauer said.
While the knowledge and dedication of On A Shoestring’s staff is impressive, what makes the business unique is its commitment to the community.
To complement the charity T-shirts, medals, and plaques that line the storefront’s walls, Litschauer also has an album at least three inches thick in his office that is overflowing with accolades and notes of gratitude from the various charities that On A Shoestring has been involved with.
The business has sponsored the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure, the Arthritis Foundation’s Arthritis Walk and Jingle Bell Run, the Bradenton Runners Club’s De Soto 5K, K-Swiss 10K, and Manatee River Run for several consecutive years — and that’s only a small handful.
On A Shoestring is also heavily involved with the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranch, to which they’ve donated roughly $10,000 worth of shoes. They also donate shoes to lower-income students at Bayshore and Manatee high schools and partner with Saint Stephen’s, Bradenton Christian School, and Lakewood Ranch High School to sponsor running events.
The Litschauers are especially passionate about events geared toward raising funds and awareness for cancer research. On A Shoestring has sponsored the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training every year since the store opened in 2005; local Relay For Life events every year since 2006; and The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk in Tampa since 2007.
Sharon Litschauer is a nurse practitioner who specializes in oncology. She got involved with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in the late 1990s after her first husband lost his own battle with the disease and has been heavily involved with the organization ever since.
In fact, Sharon and Steve were wed at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Maui Marathon in 2000.
“From the day we met through the day we got married, and still now, we’ve been very much involved with the cause,” Steve Litschauer said. “We’re involved in almost every walk/run in the area, but we get more endeared to the causes that we’re personally involved in.”
Litschauer, a retired divisional commander with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, said that through the involvement he and his wife had with local walk/run events, he realized the need in the community for a specialty athletic shoe store.
“We were always taking our students and participants to Tampa or St. Petersburg to buy specialty items just so that they could compete in the sport,” he said. “I was retired and needed something to do, and I saw a need to fill — so we opened the store and grew from there.”
Although the economic climate over the past few years has not made it the easiest time to open and run a small business, annual revenues have consistently increased for the store over the span of its six years in business.
Litschauer attributes his business’ success to its grassroots, down-to-earth marketing techniques and community involvement.
“The retail environment has lost that feeling where you can walk into a store and immediately be greeted and helped,” he said. “We make sure to hire good employees who know how to treat our customers right.”
The business has also garnered numerous awards, including recognition as a local Small Business of the Year, as well as being named one of the 50 Best Running Stores in America in 2009. It also won the Bradenton Herald’s People’s Choice award in 2009 and 2010 and was a 2010 nominee for Florida Retailer of the Year.
It is not easy to keep up with the people behind On A Shoestring, whose dedication to the local community literally has them running all over town to take part in various causes, and the business shows no indication of slowing down any time soon.
“Most of this is sweat and product,” Litschauer said. “We do more than just write checks — we participate and provide. We’re proud of what we do.”