In February, a customer came to Eneslow Shoes and Orthotics with a dilemma: Diagnosed with early-stage dementia, exercise was the best treatment doctors could recommend, but this customer was stuck. His big toes stuck up in the air, making off-the-shelf shoes impossible to wear. But Eneslow President and CEO Robert Schwartz and his team had a solution.
“We made him a beautiful pair of blue suede walking shoes, but with much more style to them” and featuring “nice, big toe box,” and cushioning to accommodate the customer’s gait, Schwartz explains. “We've given him back his life.”
At 79 years old, Schwartz’s personal history is a catalogue of similar stories of collaborative problem-solving on issues both small and large, punctuated with awards for civic virtue, of which his 2020 OTTY is just the latest.
In December 2019, New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney recognized Eneslow in the Congressional Record as a “true New York City institution that has been fitting residents ... with stylish and comfortable footwear for over a century” and Schwartz personally as “fourth generation footwear maven.”
Schwartz returned to his family’s custom footwear empire in 1973, after a successful career in sales and marketing management at International Playtex Corp, and quickly became a global authority on foot health.
“I am virtually the father of pedorthics,” Schwartz says. “I was in the first graduating class in 1974. Even though there were pedorthists before, that was when the credentialing started. I'm certainly, in terms of still actively in practice, in practice the longest, and have been one of the primary educators, trainers, mentors and leaders for the profession for at least the last 40 years.”
His claims are not boastful. Schwartz has served at various times on the boards of the Pedorthic Footcare Association, the Shoe Retailers League and the National Shoe Retailers Association, while also consulting for U.S. and European footwear brands. Schwartz has held faculty positions at almost a dozen pedorthic programs including UCLA, Northwestern University and New York University Medical Center. As of 2019 he was an adjunct professor at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine.
The self-proclaimed “hyper, Type A” store owner has also devoted a great deal of his boundless energy to New York City’s small business sector, with specific attention to business environment on the Upper East Side.
As a board member of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, Schwartz worked to eliminate the city’s Commercial Rent Tax. In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio — reportedly a longtime Eneslow customer — acknowledged Schwartz at the signing of the Fairness to Small Business legislation.
Schwartz also served on the executive committee of the 23rd Street Association until 2009.
As consumers increasingly turn away from local stores and towards online retailers for their shoes, Eneslow, like other small businesses, has seen its revenue shrink, but remains viable, unlike so many brick-and-mortar operations by the singular impact its products have on customers’ well-being.
“The only reason I'm still in business is because of the uniqueness of Eneslow, that we provide this very special service where we make custom shoes. We make orthotics. When we sell regular shoes, we can make them fit perfectly,” Schwartz says with passion. “We can really alter the experience of each customer. Even when they're buying a branded shoe that they could buy online, when they buy it from us, we convert it into something that really makes a difference in their lives.”
"“We can really alter the experience of each customer."