Jeff Jacobs' crush on Boise is very particular, yet somehow familiar to anyone who fell in love with the City of Trees and quickly decided to set down roots. For Jacobs, his heart skipped a beat in January of 2008.
"I had visited Boise before, but I really needed to see if the ski scene was all I heard it was," said Jacobs, who'd booked a room at a downtown Boise hotel on a rather snowy weekend. "I walked to a parking lot where they picked up a bunch of skiers and took us all up to Bogus Basin. It was a pretty amazing morning. I came back downtown later that day and started looking around."
When Jacobs looks around, he looks through the lens of an entrepreneur and business owner. The son of a winter Olympian—his dad competed in Nordic Combined skiing in the 1952 Oslo Olympics—Jacobs lived in both New York's Adirondack Mountains and Colorado's Rocky Mountains before beginning a storied career in outdoor recreation and ultimately creating the Foot Dynamics company in 1998 in upstate New York. Ten years later, following that "amazing" trip to Bogus, Jacobs bought a home in Boise's North End and met the woman he'd fall in love with. But perhaps most importantly, he also scoped out a vacant storefront on Main Street in downtown Boise.
"I think the first footprint was about 3,700 square feet, something like that," said Jacobs.
That was then. A decade and multiple expansions later, Foot Dynamics is at least three times larger. It serves customers from across the continent, and also happens to be smack-dab in the middle of a revitalized section of Main Street, just west of Boise's downtown core. "I had a vision of a dynamic, single location, and it had to be downtown: a shoe store, for sure, but also a clinic, an orthotics lab, everything in one location where we could be like... well, like L.L.Bean, you know? It's a destination in your soul as much as the soles of your feet."
Speaking of soles, a visit to Foot Dynamics showroom is, well, dynamic unto itself. When Boise Weekly stopped in one weekday afternoon, the store was filled with a wide-ranging demographic of would-be customers: well-suited professionals, students of all ages, seniors and even children carted in by their parents to shop for their first footwear. But the real "soul" of Foot Dynamics was behind a series of doors, where technicians in an orthotics lab were busy creating 3-D models of feet belonging to people from across the U.S.
"Look over here," said Jacobs, pointing to a stack of models. "These are from the University of Wisconsin. All of their athletes have had their foot orthotics verified here, so we can supply them with the right footwear."
In fact, scores of foot models filled multiple shelves around the orthotics lab, each with the last name of the owner printed on the heel. It was a fascinating clinical display.
"We keep these for no longer than 90 days, because the foot is constantly evolving," said Jacobs. "That said, we get calls all the time from around the country, because a doctor has a patient [and] he wants another pair made twithin that 90-day window."
Indeed, it's usually a trip to a physician that triggers the creation of a 3-D foot model and custom orthotics from Foot Dynamics. Typically a man or woman visits with a podiatrist who diagnoses something like plantar fasciitis, one of the most common causes of heel pain which, left untreated, can literally bring someone's life to a halt.
"We get the call from the doctor or the patient, [then] we get to work and make a foot impression and a foot orthotic gets underway," said Kevin Chapman, Foot Dynamics' general manager. "We hear a lot about heel pain, back pain, knee pain. Your feet are your foundation, and nearly everything else is involved."
Chapman told BW that issues such as contracted toes, bunions or calluses can be the result of something as simple as wearing the wrong shoe size, or something as complex as equinus.
"I think equinus is an epidemic in our society right now," said Chapman. "Think of that calf muscle of yours; perhaps the Achilles tendon, and the tightness in the calf can be the root cause of nearly 90 percent of all foot problems that we've been seeing. Why is it happening? Think of it, nobody squats to talk to a neighbor anymore. No one really stretches anymore. Think of our chairs, our toilets and our elevated shoes. That tightness in your calf is exacerbating so many problems."
And Jacobs said those problems can start early—he's even seen kids come in with foot issues.
"We've got moms walking in our door with children who have serious foot problems. Six years old, five years old, even younger," he said. "We see kids walking with their ankles dragging on the ground and some pediatrician has told the mother, 'Well, he might grow out of it. Don't worry about it.' But we can fit that child with the right shoe to help [them] develop the right muscle tone. It's a huge difference in that child's life."
Which is why, Jacobs said, Foot Dynamics is more of a passion than a business.
"Ten years? It doesn't seem like 10 years at all," he said, looking around like a proud dad. "... I'm always thinking about all of the people that we've helped over the years. Now, that's an anniversary to celebrate."See related PDF