Harold Rudo, who became known as "Mr. Shoe" as he helped popularize and preserve the Air Force 1 Nike model throughout Baltimore, died March 21 of complications from a stroke at Northwest Hospital. He was 61 and had lived at the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Pikesville, he was the son of Charles "Charley" Rudo, who was co-owner of a sporting-goods business with his wife, Selma Levin.
The younger Mr. Rudo was a 1973 graduate of Pikesville High School and attended the old Catonsville Community College.
Mr. Rudo joined his father, who was well-known in local sports circles from his days as a City College football player and coach, at a Mondawmin Mall sporting-goods business. They also had other shops throughout the city.
Mr. Rudo became the shoe buyer at Charley Rudo Sports. He worked alongside his father, as well as his brother, Clifford Rudo, and an uncle, Aaron Rudo.
"He developed a passion for athletic shoes, and he got the nickname 'Mr. Shoe,'" said his sister, Rochelle Rudo. "He was identified with the tremendous sales of Nike's Air Force 1s."
She said Nike's marketing plan was to introduce a new shoe on a frequent basis, and the company planned to discontinue the Air Force 1 just a couple of years after it was introduced in 1982. But she said her brother found that the original was a top seller among his customers.
"After a time, Nike decided to send AF1s to the chopping block," she said. "Harold wouldn't let that happen. He got himself to the Nike campus in Oregon, talked with the executives and persuaded them to keep making AF1s."
"The shoes were blowing out of my store," Mr. Rudo recalled in a Baltimore Sun article in 2007. "I flew out to [Nike's headquarters in] Portland, Oregon, and met with the second-in-command."
"Harold was the reason the shoe went on to become what it did," said Gregory Vaughan, manager of the Downtown Locker Room at Mondawmin and a friend for 35 years. "The Nike executives laughed at him at first, but he placed a large order for himself, and you had to come to Baltimore to buy them. Soon the music celebrities ... were coming ... for the shoes with the colors."
In 1990, the shoes were selling for about $70 a pair, Mr. Vaughan said.
Mr. Rudo's sister said he suggested adding colors to the original all-white shoe.
"Mr. Rudo joined officials from Baltimore's Cinderella Shoes and Downtown Locker Room to suggest that Nike executives strongly reconsider the move," the 2007 Sun article said. "Rudo and cohorts from the other two sporting-goods stores persuaded Nike initially to continue selling two styles of Air Force 1's — white with royal blue, and white with chocolate brown — but only in their stores in Baltimore."
The Sun described the shoe as "a sneaker that Baltimore had a major role in saving and helping to become an urban fashion sensation of the past generation."
The article said the shoe's popularity grew at first by word of mouth. One of its wearers was Moses Malone, who had signed a letter of intent to play basketball for the University of Maryland but opted to turn pro coming out of high school in 1974.
"Curiously, the buzz for the Air Force 1 centered in Baltimore, far from the major fashion centers and the only place where the model was sold for a time after it was all but discontinued," The Sun reported.
"No city is as important to the Air Force 1 as Baltimore," Nike acknowledged in a booklet it sent to retailers for the 25th anniversary of the shoe.
According to the 2007 Sun article, the Nike booklet stated, "The city rebirthed the shoe and set in motion a series of events that would change the way sneakers were perceived in the marketplace."
In the article, Mr. Rudo recalled that he sold more than 100 pairs in the first weekend the new styles were brought out.
"Then we started popping out new styles, color by color by color by color. We brought out one to two colors a month," Mr. Rudo told The Sun. "We were exclusive. ... We had people coming from New York, Washington, D.C. They were coming from all over Pennsylvania. They knew we had 'em, and they'd all come running to Baltimore to buy them from us."
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The Rudo sporting-goods store closed about 20 years ago.
Mr. Rudo enjoyed playing basketball with friends, his family said.
Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.
In addition to his sister, survivors include his wife of nearly 21 years, Daryn Knosen, a registered nurse; and three sons, Shlomo Rudo of Israel, and Harrison Rudo and Charles Rudo, both of Baltimore..