BOSTON — Marathon Sports on Boylston Street, just steps from the finish line of the Boston Marathon, is a popular spot for people watching the race.
On April 15, 2013, that changed in an instant, when the first bomb exploded outside its doors. The runners shop was turned into a makeshift triage for bombing victims. Employees, who were inside the store when the bombs went off, became first responders, tearing apparel off hangers to use as tourniquets.
"Surreal, that's probably the best way to say it," Shane O'Hara, the store's manager, says, looking out from inside the store on a warm spring day — a day not unlike last year's marathon, when three people were killed and more than 260 others wounded by the blasts.
Within seconds, he says, several victims were being treated inside the store. As first responders on the street were yelling for material to stop the bleeding, O'Hara thought about going to the basement to get towels, but decided that would take too long.
"We were just tearing the apparel off the hangers," O'Hara says of the chaotic scene. "It was insane."
As staffers went in and out of the store, they had to be careful not to slip on blood and glass.
It's a moment the 43-year-old, who has managed the store since 2001, has spent nearly a year trying to move past.
"It's been a long year," he says. "After that day of hell, I was ready to start a new chapter."
For many, Marathon Sports has been part of starting that new chapter, becoming a place of healing for runners — and tourists — in the year since the marathon.
The store, like the rest of that part of Boylston Street, was closed for more than a week after the blasts. When it reopened, throngs of first-time customers — most of them non-runners — came in to support the store, buying race memorabilia and, of course, those Boston Strong t-shirts.
"It's kind of funny, you'd smell the cigarette-smoke on them," O'Hara says of his unlikely customers. "They were buying these cotton shirts that runners hate. It wasn't until we started getting requests for technical shirts that I knew our regular customers were coming back."
Marathon Sports' Wednesday night running club, which O'Hara started over a decade ago, didn't meet at the store for several weeks after the bombings; when it did, 300 people showed up.
"It was amazing," O'Hara recalls, his eyes welling with tears. "The sign-up sheet was six pages, and the crowd went around the block. It was very emotional, and cathartic for a lot of people."
The store's proximity to the finish line has also given O'Hara a front-row seat to another part of the healing: runners who weren't able to finish last year's race finishing it on their own.
"That's probably been the coolest thing I've seen this year," O'Hara says. "Groups of three, four, five, six runners crossing the finish line, and the cops who were stationed there stopping traffic for them, allowing them to take pictures."
Marathon Sports is playing a charitable role in this year's race, too. O'Hara and colleagues Dan Soleau and Kevin Dillon got approval from the Boston Athletic Association to organize the official One Fund Boston team. Its 50 runners have pledged to raise at least $8,000 each to participate. (More than 370 runners applied for a spot on the team, and many of those who made it have pledged to raise much more.)
"This race is many different things to many different people," Jim Gallagher, president of the One Fund, says. "But it is still about the runners."
To date, the One Fund has raised more than $77 million for the victims of the bombings.
"After the tragedy, this community stepped up in a way none of us I think really knew we could, but we did," Gallagher says.
O'Hara, who hasn't run the Boston Marathon himself since 1999, is running it this year — though he's not officially part of the One Fund team.
"I did it for myself, for a sense of purpose," he says. "I didn't want to be here in the morning [on the day of the marathon]. I wanted to do something different."
His goal is to finish in less than 4 hours so he can be back at the store by 2:49 p.m. (the time of the first explosion) to help his staffers — after he has a well-deserved post-race beer.
"I want to finish the race, have a beer, close the store, and kind of close that chapter.”