CINCINNATI -- "Ever see those moments in a cartoon where the light just goes off? Well I had one of those moments."
Matt Tomamichel, owner of Corporate, the exclusive sneaker shop in Hyde Park where Bengals star A.J. Green shops, grew up with a passion for shoes. So much so that when his mom would ask, "it's either new clothes or new shoes," Tomamichel would opt for the shoes every time.
The Cincinnati native and Winton Woods graduate went off to college in Dayton where he only stayed for a year before realizing it wasn't the path for him.
"School was OK but the fit wasn’t for me," said Tomamichel. "It's not always about what you know, it's about who you know. That has always been true for me."
How it all began
He jumped into the life of retail, working multiple jobs at Tri-County Mall, all involving shoes, of course.
But it wasn't until a best friend's murder that Tomamichel found his true inspiration for doing more than being on the front line in a shoe store.
The day of his 20-year-old friend Aubrey's death, the two had a conversation that was Tomamichel's turning point.
"We were at the mall and he said he was tired of me working so hard, telling me I need to focus," Tomamichel said. "He caught wind I was working for four stores all at Tri-County and was also going to school at the time. He said, 'Dude, you need to pick a route to go and go in it.' He was telling me I wasn't where I needed to be."
Tomamichel missed his friend's last phone call due to staying late after a class and found out about his murder the next morning.
"I turned on the TV and they said, '20-year-old shot and killed.' I didn’t have to hear his name, I knew it was him."
That was Tomamichel's moment.
"Man, you know when they talk about turning a negative into a positive? I did that," said Tomamichel. "It showed me to go for everything I wanted."
And that he did.
In one of those chance meetings, Tomamichel connected with a shoe store owner in Minnesota who had been reaching out to him repeatedly through an online community asking him for product knowledge and advice.
"He said I'd been helping him with recommending products and he was having success with that," said Tomamichel.
At that time he was working at Foot Access and after getting a paycheck of $250 on a Friday, he used the money to fly out to Minnesota on a leap of faith the next day.
"I went out there and fell in love with the store and with the concept," said Tomamichel. "I thought I could take it to the next level."
After a year, Tomamichel helped to open a second store in Columbus, Ohio.
"Everything went wrong," he said. "We lost funding, my grandma passed, we got broken into. They robbed me of everything. I was at a point again, like, 'What can I do?' It was my real first test of faith. I cried, I prayed, I asked God to help me."
As Tomamichel was driving back home to Cincinnati, he passed the Springfield Town Center and decided to take a chance. He signed a 3-year lease and opened the doors.
"This was when the economy was really bad, in 2008," he said. "We were barely getting by for three years. At this point I was like, 'I'm going to quit – I'm going to go at this in another direction.'"
But remember that light bulb that flashed for Tomamichel? It was about to make its appearance.
He went to eat at Dancing Wasabi (in Mount Lookout at the time) when he turned around and noticed a paper in the window. He went closer and realized it was a flyer showing a new store space opening in Hyde Park.
He immediately called the number on the ad.
"Instantly I felt like this was the person who was supposed to help," Tomamichel said of the woman who answered the phone. "I told her my situation and my struggle for the past three years."
The shop moved from Springfield Town Center to the hip new location in Hyde Park soon after and has been taking the shoe industry by storm for the last three years.
But this story isn't just about the path of a self-made Cincinnati man.
"It's about showing people we are all about being together and community," said Tomamichel. "I have everyone from athlete AJ Green to a student that goes to Summit County Day or to Withrow High School. I love being able to show people that anything is possible. I took my darkest hour and made it my passion. It was supposed to happen that way."
How does Corporate set itself apart from the average shoe store?
"I believe what separates us, honestly, beyond our selection, is the feeling you get when you shop here," said Tomamichel.
He said if the customer went out of their way to pick his store to shop in, shouldn't they go the extra distance for them?
"We take the time to actually know the person and not say, 'Hey, that’s money walking in the door,'" he said. "Many are re-shoppers, greeted by name. That’s the biggest thing, relating to your customers is the ultimate advantage over everybody."
Tomamichel also puts a huge emphasis on giving back to the community he represents and loves.
His store recently worked with the Shining Star Youth Program and donated approximately $10,000 after a raffle contest.
Corporate is also involved in a backpack program for a local church that helps give children in need backpacks filled with school supplies.
"It's just important. Important for me because that’s the one thing I have learned from over the years -- to get off to a good start in the beginning of the year," said Tomamichel. "A lot of kids aren’t fortunate enough to get that chance. We all look at it as -- it can stop someone from being bullied and give them a good feeling starting their school year."
Giving back and promoting community is one of Corporate's biggest selling points.
"We have opened our door to be a place to understand, yeah, we are selling the hottest sneakers and clothing, but we will definitely be giving back to our community," Tomamichel said. "Nobody likes someone who's just constantly taking."
But let's get down to the shoes
Corporate offers something most shoe stores don't.
"You will find the most limited products in our store," Tomamichel said. "You can't find this stuff in the mall or anywhere in the city, practically in the state."
Most of the brands Corporate carries on the clothing side only go in smaller shop doors, giving them the premium, exclusive feel.
"It's all stuff you actually have to do you research and go find," he said.
But Corporate also carries its own line of private label items, including a line of tees, hoodies and life accessories such as iPad cases and socks.
He hopes to one day design a shoe of his own.
"I aspire to one day get a call to collaborate on a shoe with a major company representing my city and shop," Tomamichel said.
Making your passion your life-work
The store means more to Tomamichel than dollar signs.
"Honestly, I think this store saved my life," he said. "It gave me direction and it's given me the ability to work through the good and the bad in my life. It's given me a better understanding for life."
He emphasizes the possibility of turning what you're passionate about into something more than a hobby.
"This isn’t just my work, this is my fun," Tomamichel said. "I have fun in here everyday because I'm still passionate about selling the best shoes and having the best shoes."
"Everything happens for a reason, and I'm thankful for that."
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