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Pillar of the Business Community: Ryan’s Sport Shop

Pillar of the Business Community: Ryan's Sport Shop

Do you need running shoes? Walking shoes? What’s the difference anyway? Not to worry. Gary Goettelman at Ryan’s Sport Shop, which is—according to him—the oldest, running shop in the world, is quick to tell you that “walking is nothing but slow running, and running is nothing but fast walking.”

Goettelman, a former world-class, marathon runner who has also coached for distance running clubs, beginning at Monterey College in the 1960s, can gauge your foot size at a glance. After all, he’s been sizing up people and their feet for more than 35 years.

“He just looked at my foot and knew my size,” says Saratoga resident Yvonne Zivanic, who discovered the family-run shop near Santa Clara University in 1989 as a student and has been a customer ever since.


Goettelman sends customers outside on the sidewalk to try out shoes before buying them.

“This is a ‘test it before you buy it’ store,” he says.

“I learned a lot about shoes because he showed me options. He’s the only one who lets me test drive the shoes!” says Zivanic.

“Shoes must match the physical characteristics of the user. They have to fit correctly from the beginning,” Goettelman says. “If you’re buying a mattress and you try it out and it’s not comfortable, would you buy it anyway, thinking that you could break it in?”

Goettelman is brimming with analogies. “I’m only putting tires on the car,” he says about fitting shoes. “Shoes are tools for my customers.”

Michael J. Ryan, winner of the 1912 Boston Marathon, established Ryan’s Sport Shop in 1949. When Goettelman bought the business from Ryan’s sons in 1978, he agreed to keep the original name.

“I’ve been going to Ryan’s Sport Shop for my running shoes for 20 years,” says Santa Claran Ron Reynolds. “I believe they know more about sports shoes than anyone else in our area. [There are] no clerks, only knowledgeable sport shoe experts.”

Goettelman is in partnership with his son, Steven, and his wife, Gail, who serves as the financial officer of the running, track, and field specialty shop, which sells sports apparel and equipment as well as shoes. All are experienced runners.

“Our service is individualized,” says Steven, who entered the business full-time in 1983. “We work with people as individuals to identify and meet their needs.”

Ryan’s Sport Shop customers include track and cross-country teams, some from out of state. Santa Clara firefighters come to be fitted for their special-order uniform boots. Many customers are referred by foot-care specialists.

“A good shoe is a lot cheaper than a visit to the doctor. Prevention costs less than correction. That’s the whole reason for having good equipment,” says Goettelman.

Ryan’s Sport Shop—45 Washington Street, Santa Clara; phone: 408-985-6886—is open every day except Sunday. Parking is available behind the building.


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