Best Feet Forward

Paul Carrozza of Austins Run-Tex is turning the state capital into the running capital of the United States.

LAST FALL SEVERAL runners brought brand-new pairs of running shoes back to Paul Carrozza at Run-Tex and told him they couldn’t run in them. One man reported bolts of pain shooting up his shins and into his knees, as though he were running in high heels. After trying out the shoes himself (they were all the same model), still unsure what was wrong with them, Carrozza cut a pair in half and discovered that the foam support was, in his words, as “hard as a rock.” He called the company that had designed the shoes and explained what he had found. Because the shoes were samples and had not yet hit the market, the company was able to call its manufacturers in Asia, delay production, and correct the problem.

Who is Paul Carrozza and how is it that a single phone call from him could alter a huge corporation’s manufacturing operations halfway across the globe? And what was he doing with those shoes so far in advance of other stores? Paul and his wife, Shiela, own Run-Tex, one of the country’s premier running stores, which is located in Austin, not coincidentally one of the top running cities in the country. On a typical Saturday on the sales floor of their Riverside Drive store, the customers swarm in, many fresh from running on nearby Town Lake hike and bike trails; the sales staff of twenty can barely keep up, often making it necessary for Paul or Shiela (when she’s not at home with their daughter, Quinn) to help out. In the back there’s even more activity, as new shipments stream into the stockroom to supply the vast variety of shoes for which Run-Tex is known. In the office Carrozza fields phone calls, answering questions about shoe design and fit, throwing around terms like “pronation” and “medial” and “toe box.” His day is also filled with helping organize one of the sixty or so races he’s involved with, hosting a talk-radio show on KVET-AM Sunday mornings, or working through the stack of shoe evaluations that, as the footwear editor for Runner’s World since the spring of 1997, he is in charge of compiling for the magazine’s shoe-buyer’s guides. In addition Run-Tex is the official wear-test center for Runner’s World, which explains why he had those faulty shoes before they actually went on the market. And why a certain shoe company, whose new line stood to get a poor evaluation, acted so promptly on Carrozza’s report.

He also runs. Twice a day.

Carrozza, 35, is lean, short, and muscular, with strands of gray in his wavy brown hair that correspond to the calm steeliness of his eyes. The Denver native has none of the boisterous energy one might expect from a successful entrepreneur but instead moves with the easy efficiency of a long-distance runner. For the past fifteen years Carrozza’s lifework has been running. Both he and Shiela, a Californian, were All-Americans at Abilene Christian College, a school with a famed running program. They both later coached at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, and Paul coached Shiela to a world championship in the 3,000 meters.

Paul bought Run-Tex in 1988 for “$14,000 worth of inventory, wholesale,” he says. The store, then located at Twelfth Street and Lamar Boulevard in Austin, was owned by a retired airline executive. “He was doing sixty thousand to seventy thousand dollars a year in sales, he carried only two lines, and he was getting ready to shut the store down,” remembers Carrozza, who saw a huge potential for a specialty running store in an already health-conscious community. He borrowed the money from his parents and, with vendor financing from various shoe companies, stocked the store with an additional $100,000 worth of inventory, a huge and varied selection he and Shiela hoped would translate into higher sales.

It worked. In 1989, their first full year as owners, the Carrozzas did $260,000 in business. The next year sales more than doubled, to $620,000. Encouraged by this rapid growth, the Carrozzas opened two new stores in 1990, one in North Austin and one thirty miles south of town in San Marcos. The new stores, however, didn’t live up to expectations and were soon closed. (They have since opened another North Austin location.)

A serendipitous natural disaster—the flooding of the store in December 1991—propelled Run-Tex to a new level. When a reporter asked Carrozza what he was going to do with all the damaged shoes and he quipped, “Sell ’em cheap,” he found his store on CNN Headline News, and the ensuing publicity helped Run-Tex sell 2,500 pairs of shoes in ten days, recovering $110,000 in losses. The Carrozzas moved the store across the street, where they envisioned setting up not just a shoe store like the old one, but a sort of headquarters for fostering the local running scene.

One thing the Carrozzas knew a lot about from their days of competitive running was putting on races. They had already sponsored the Congress Avenue Mile in 1990, the idea for which came to Paul as he stood on the steps of the state capitol looking down Congress Avenue. The race was an “instant hit,” he says, and the next year the couple put on the Run-Tex Half-Marathon. “What came out of that,” he remembers, “was that Motorola said, ‘Hey, we want to put on a marathon.’”

The first Motorola Marathon was staged in 1992, with Paul serving as the race director and Run-Tex providing the technical support—indispensable things like plotting the racecourse, setting up scaffolding and water stops, and arranging for street closures and official timing. The success of the marathon and Carrozza’s encouragement led other corporations to sponsor their own events, enlisting Run-Tex to help put them on. The number of annual races staged in and around Austin has grown in the past eight years from the lone, 21-year-old Capitol 10,000 to half a dozen major events, with fifty to sixty smaller races every year. Among the corporations currently sponsoring races are Austin-based deli chain

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