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‘Both Feet In’: West Hartford’s Fleet Feet Transitioning to New Ownership

Fernanda (left) and Dave Jacobs will be the new owners of Fleet Feet West Hartford as of May 1, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Fernanda and Dave Jacobs are purchasing the West Hartford Fleet Feet store and Stephanie and Carrie Blozy will be stepping back from their current roles.

Fleet Feet West Hartford, 1003 Farmington Ave. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

Fleet Feet West Hartford is remaining a family operation, but it’s being passed along to another family.

Fernanda Jacobs started working part time at Fleet Feet West Hartford about six and a half years ago, and said almost immediately she told Steph and Carrie Blozy that if they ever wanted to sell the store, she was interested.

On May 1, Fernanda and her husband, Dave Jacobs, will be the new owners of Fleet Feet West Hartford.

“Their dream has been to open a Fleet Feet store,” said Steph Blozy, and as she and her sister, Carrie, talked about stepping back from the business they decided this would be a good time to sell, began discussions with the Jacobs, and everything came together.

“Last fall they came to us, and I said I think we’re ready,” Fernanda said. She and Dave are so excited and ready to jump into their new roles with “both feet in.”

Fernanda is a natural salesperson. She previously worked at the state legislature and for nonprofits, but then for years was a stay-at-home mom caring for their four children while at the same time taking on leadership roles with the school PTOs, organizing the Avon Memorial Day soccer tournament, and serving as race director of the Avon Road Race.

She started as a shoe fitter at Fleet Feet more than six years ago, then moved up to shift leader, manager, and for the past year has been general manager. “I have fun with all the customers,” she said. “I always want people to leave happy – to have ‘happy feet.'”

Dave, who is a West Hartford native and Conard High School graduate, worked in retail years ago but then worked in the commercial real estate business. “I’m ready for a second career,” he said. He said he’s looking forward to being the “new Carrie” – managing the back-end operations of the store as Carrie Blozy has done and at the same time learning the entire operation.

Both say Fleet Feet is much more than a store that sells running shoes, apparel, and accessories. It’s a community, and they plan to maintain and – if possible – even expand upon the work that Steph and Carrie Blozy have done to create that sense of community.

“All the community stuff that Steph has started, that’s not going to change,” said Fernanda. The “shoe library” will remain stocked with shoes that have been returned and therefore can’t be sold, so that coaches will be able to continue to bring in their team members in need to get shoes for free.

Footwear with Care – an effort that gives free foot exams and shoes or boots to the homeless in Hartford – and the myriad training groups for runners of all ages will continue to operate. The addition of a trail running group is a possibility, Dave said.

“It’s a gathering spot,” Fernanda said of the store. On weekday mornings she said you’ll find people who were perhaps sent by a doctor or physical therapist to find some shoes that will help them with foot problems. On weekends there are more runners, and there is also a large customer base of kids, including track and cross country athletes getting fitted for their spikes.

Fernanda and Dave Jacobs will be the new owners of Fleet Feet Sports as of May 1, 2023. Courtesy photo

“Just be active” is what Dave said they want to encourage.

Dave said people are asking if they are going to have a grand opening when the ownership changes, and the answer is a resounding “No.”

“We like everything the store has evolved into,” he said. The building where Fleet Feet is located, at 1003-1007 Farmington Avenue, is about to undergo some major renovations. Dave said they don’t plan any changes to the store during that time, but may unveil some updates when the work on the building is complete, likely sometime in 2024.

“We’re very excited, truly excited to continue the Blozy tradition,” Fernanda said. And best of all, she added, is that Steph and Carrie are staying involved.

The entire Jacobs family is excited and their son Max is already working at the store. Their oldest daughter is a CPA and another daughter plays soccer at Yale. Their youngest attends Avon High School.

“I’m looking to build something for the kids,” Dave added.

The Blozy legacy

Steph Blozy was well aware that Fernanda and Dave Jacobs wanted to own a Fleet Feet store, and had in fact been thinking for a while about opening one elsewhere in the state.

She and Carrie moved to New England 15 years ago to not only fulfill their dream of owning and operating a Fleet Feet store, but also to be closer to their parents. For many reasons, the time is now right to pass that dream on to another family.

Back in 2006, Steph started talking with Alice Gold, who was the original owner of West Hartford’s Fleet Feet. “We settled on a price, but then I got cold feet.”

Steph, an Ohio native who previously worked as a meteorologist for WeatherBug, was working for Fleet Feet in Maryland, and decided to get her master’s degree in exercise science before taking any further action. She finished her degree in 2008.

During the two years she was in school, Steph said she continued discussions with Gold, who occasionally got offers from others to buy the West Hartford store. The offers kept falling through, and when Steph and Carrie decided to move to be closer to their parents, they were considering opening a new Fleet Feet in southern New Hampshire, which fell within a two-hour radius of West Hartford, where the Blozys’ parents had moved to be near another sibling. The store would be far enough from West Hartford so they wouldn’t be competing.

Then the Blozys found out Gold was definitely looking to sell the West Hartford store, and it worked out with the sale going through on June 8, 2008.

“The store takes on a mind of its own, and it’s a big community,” said Steph. She and Carrie moved here for their family, but soon were part of a whole new family ranging in age from newborn to 92. Those original “babies” are now driving, the first Zoomerangs are now out of college, and many of the former teen employees are now married with children and turning 40.

Carrie (left) and Stephanie Blozy. Submitted photo (we-ha.com file photo)

Our parents got the short end of the stick, said Steph, even though they live just a mile-and-a-half away. For the first two years in West Hartford she said she worked about 110 hours a week. The weeks aren’t that long anymore, but she and Carrie want more time with their parents who are rapidly aging.

“When we started talking to the Jacobs we were thinking that could fall apart, but at every step we kept going to the next step,” Steph said. Everything about the process has been very amicable, and she and Carrie are looking forward to remaining involved with the store.

“We feel very fortunate that they were able to make this leap,” said Steph.

In a letter to customers, Steph wrote the following: “I’ve always loved the analogy that our lives are like books filled with many chapters. Some short. Some long. Some sad. Some happy. But they all – even the best ones – have an end. After almost 15 years, my chapter as owner of Fleet Feet Hartford is ending on May 1,” she wrote.

Stuff-a-cruiser collection for Footwear with Care outside Fleet Feet on Dec. 1, 2018. From left: Stephanie Blozy, Hartford Off. Jim Barrett, Lynn LeBlanc, Abby Moore. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Some of the best parts about owning Fleet Feet have been the involvement with the community and being able to work for the greater good in ways large and small, like volunteering with Footwear with Care, donating shoes and boots to people in countries near and far, raising funds for nonprofits, and supporting the community in the aftermath of tragedy. Following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, a large crowd gathered at Fleet Feet for a run and group sing of “Sweet Caroline.” There were gatherings following Sandy Hook and the Ahmaud Arbery murder, and other events.

Fleet Feet Half Marathon Training Group participated in the “Finish Eliza’s Run” initiative on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. Courtesy photo (we-ha.com file photo)

Steph and Carrie will remain involved with those community events, including the upcoming “Blue Jean Mile” (May 6) and the “Great Donut Challenge” on May 20, as well as Celebrate! West Hartford, Zoomerangs, and the Little Manchester Road Race. They will also continue to support the efforts of Fitness Class Training, and remain involved with Footwear with Care. Steph said she will continue to serve on local boards and committees.

“We are one of the top running stores in the country, and I love that they want this to be a family business,” Steph said of Fernanda and Dave Jacobs. “I couldn’t think of two better people to run the store,” she said.

“I will miss being at the center of it, but will still be in it,” said Steph, who plans to participate in more races and other events since she won’t need to be organizing them.

And the Blozys and Jacobs emphasized that nothing is changing regarding gift cards, store credit, coupons, etc. There will, however, be an inventory reduction sale in the former SK Lavery space next door during the weekend of April 28 and 29.

“It’s a legacy we want to leave, to help other people,” Steph said of the Fleet Feet store. She believes she and Carrie have helped make their corner of the world a little bit better, and had fun in the process. And that’s going to continue.

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