Submitted by Anne H. Oman
December 7, 2015 12:45 p.m.
Tucked into the art-filled, light-filled renovated cottage on South Sixth Street that Lea Gallardo calls home is a small plaque documenting her latest accolade: last week the well-known local photographer was inducted into the Running Specialty Hall of Fame at the Independent Running Retailer Association’s annual convention in Austin, Texas.
To understand why Ms. Gallardo earned his honor, you have to return to the early 1990s, when the sporting goods industry was nothing like it is today.
“There were not a lot of women,” she explained. “If you went into a running store about that time, you’d seen a few pairs of men’s shorts and some skinny, sweaty guys stretching.”
Ms. Gallardo, who was “already a 45-year-old runner,” knew something different was needed.
“I had been working as an accountant, but I was always very entrepreneurial,” she said.
In January, 1990, when a running store came up for sale in McLean, Virginia, across the Potomac from Washington, DC, she started negotiating for it. The following year, she opened Metro Run & Walk.
“It took about three years to catch on,” she said. To keep going, she sold her piano, then some of her cameras, then her sports car.
“In the early days, it was just me and a part-time high school student,” she recalled.
Eventually, she expanded to three stores and nearly fifty employees. All employees were trained in the biomechanics of the foot. They had to know how to analyze a customer’s gait. Do they put their heels down first or their toes? The stores carried a wide selection of sizes, and shoes that curved according to the shape of the foot.
We had a sign on the wall: “You cannot buy shoes by their color,” she explained.
Ms. Gallardo attributes her success not only to this individualized approach but to “charity marathons, which brought a whole new group of people.” And she measures this success not only in numbers but in personal testimonials, like that of the woman who came running up to her and said: “You’re the shoe lady – you don’t know how you changed my life.”
All three stores have been sold, and Ms. Gallardo has switched from running to power walking– but that doesn’t mean she’s slowed down. She teaches basic photography and Lightroom, akin to Photoshop, at FSCJ, and also gives private lessons. She’s active in the Island Art Association’s photography group, and is the resident photographer for the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival. She also has a Facebook page called “The Moods of Amelia.”
“Every morning I’m in town I post the sunrise from Main Beach,” she said. “I’ve fallen in love with starting the day with a sunrise.”