Off Beat

That's Shoe Biz

To hear Adam Oreck tell it, his was the American Dream. An inventor by trade, he dabbled in different industries, creating gizmos from key rings to ceiling-cleaning tools. In 1986 Oreck began noodling with what he grew convinced was a golden idea: a better-fitting shoe. By 1994 the Minneapolis resident had designed a new lacing system that cradled the foot with support and comfort by locating the laces near the soles of the shoe. He applied for a patent. And then he shopped his creation to footwear giants like Nike and Reebok.

When the big names passed, Oreck decided to manufacture the shoes himself. But his company--UFIT, Inc. (as in Universal Footwear Innovative Technologies) has struggled to gain its footing. And earlier this year, just when he was getting ready to make a new sales push ("Everybody loves the product!" he exclaims), Oreck noticed something that rocked him on his heels: Reebok had released a shoe called the U-Rush, which features a lacing system that looks remarkably similar to his innovation. (See the accompanying photos and judge for yourself, or get a full-color look at www.ufit.com and www.reebok.com.)

Certain that the footwear behemoth was infringing on his patent, Oreck tried to negotiate with the company, hoping they'd cut him in. But after reviewing Oreck's claim, Reebok officials told him to take a walk. "I'm not at liberty to tell you anything other than there's no infringement," says attorney David Cornwell, who represents Reebok.

Though Oreck remains convinced his patent has been violated, the 40-year-old shoemaker says he has no plans to sue, preferring instead to look at the bright side. "I'm not going to pursue a lawsuit, but I'm going to exploit the fact that they're infringing," he reports from his mother's home in Arizona, to which he has repaired in order to regroup. "It's a marketing opportunity." --By Leyla Kokmen

 

Deep Freeze

Star Tribune staff writers take heart: The Big Cheese feels your pain. When last we checked in with our counterparts at the Newspaper of the Twin Cities, there was some griping going on about the lack of felt-tip pens, which are valuable to reporters here in the Northland because ballpoints tend to freeze in the cold weather (see "Tipping Point," February 27, available online at www.citypages.com/archive). Back then an administrative staffer assured us that a new order of felt-tips was on its way.

This past Thursday, however, reporters were heard grumbling that the pens had yet to arrive. Not coincidentally, Strib editor Tim McGuire was quoted that same day in his own paper, which excerpted a speech he'd just given to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, about how bottom-line pressures are forcing newspapers to "lock down expenses on everything from newsprint to employees to felt-tip pens." --By G.R. Anderson Jr.

 

Move It On Over

The recent bout of statewide redistricting has resulted in plenty of fallout. Veteran legislators up for reelection--16 and counting--are melting from the ballots like snowbanks in April. Upstart politicians are scurrying to build new campaigns from the ground up. But few have gone as far as DFLer John Lesch, a prosecutor in the St. Paul City Attorney's Office, did the day after he discovered that the new map had squeezed him out of District 66A on St. Paul's north side: He bought a new house and shoehorned himself back in.

"It's a hot, hot market right now," explains the 29-year-old Lesch, who has been planning a run for the state house for the past year. He and his wife had already been thinking about looking for new digs, and she was a prime player in the decision to make the move: "When your wife says, 'Let's go for it,' you don't ask any questions," says Lesch. "We got on the ball quickly."

No kidding. On March 20, only a day after new district boundaries were announced, the Lesches plunked down $165,000 for a one-and-a-half-story bungalow near Maryland Avenue and Dale Street--about five blocks from their old house. Thanks to the aid of a cousin who's a real estate agent, Lesch had sold his old place a few days later, for $140,000.

Lesch's good fortune was compounded when State Rep. Tom Osthoff, a 28-year incumbent DFLer, announced on April 5 that he would not be seeking another term. Lesch, who's now the favorite to gain the DFL party's endorsement this weekend, is circumspect about the lucky streak: "It's not something I made happen," he concludes. "It's all just something that happened to me." --By G.R. Anderson Jr.

 
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