In his competitive life, Harold Schwab raced in short, fast events like the intermediate hurdles, and in the 1970s even held state and national records.
"I loved the head to head competition," said Schwab, a former five-time All-American at the University of Pennsylvania. "You're fully in control of your destiny when you're racing...you could be the smallest guy in the race and it doesn't matter."
Today, he is the owner of Schwab's 2nd Wind in East Setauket, an athletic shoe and apparel shop which has been around 3o years. His expertise in track and field events serves him well when fitting customers with shoes, as he carries around 300 models of shoes. Schwab personally tests every model he sells.
"Every shoe is designed for a slightly different type foot," Schwab said. "Different arch structure. Different amount of stability. Different shape. In terms of matching the shoes and feet, it's not about finding a good shoe, it's about finding the right shoe."
The store has two different personalities. It's part performance running, for serious competitors, with shoes ranging from $79 to $149 in price. It's part neighborhood sneaker store, with shoes for walking, cross training, and tennis for both adults and children.
Schwab started out in 1980 as a repair business for running shoes. Taking them apart and putting them back together taught him tons about the shoes he'd eventually begin selling. He also did modifications to shoes that manufacturers didn't start adding until years later.
At that time, when the average cost of a shoe was $29, the cost of a repair was $12. But business began to change, and he switched from repairs to sales.
"By the time the cost of a new shoe was $50, I was finding that people wanted to buy a new shoe anyway," he said.
The store is an official donation site for Soles 4 Souls, a nonprofit organization which collects used shoes and redistributes them throughout the world to places in need.
When you buy a shoe at 2nd Wind, you often get a side order of shoe or running advice – sometimes "more than you want," Schwab laughs.
Around 1984, Schwab branched out into the custom screenprinting, embroidery and custom appliqué business, a decision he made mostly out of frustration that he couldn't find a quality screenprinter to make t-shirts for the store. That arm of the business was housed in the back of the store until around 1992, when it grew too big and needed its own facility. Its current location is on Enterprise Drive.
Schwab's future plans include a website for the store. He once tried opening a second location, in Fort Salonga, but closed it soon after when he realized he wanted to be more "hands-on" with one location.
"If you own your business, you have to love it," Schwab said. "It's got to be a passion."