Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Local Running Store—The Heart of the Running Community

Look at any strip mall and you'll most likely see a Sports Authority, Dick's Sporting Goods, Modell's, REI, or a Champs. It's definitely true—the big-box sports stores abound.

According to the New Rules Project (a program of the Institute For Local Self-Reliance), those big-box stores are hurting the economy more than they are helping. Studies have shown that that locally owned stores generate much greater benefits for the local economy than national chains. Further studies have found that big-box retailers, particularly Wal-Mart, are hurting retail employees by depressing wages and benefits. Also the arrival of a big-box retailer often displaces sales at existing businesses, which often means the smaller guys have to downsize or close. This results in job losses and declining tax revenue.

All the more reason to support your local independent running store. You may not get the huge discounts a big-box store or online shopping may offer, but I guarantee you won't get the one-on-one attention or the experience and knowledge that your local running store will provide you.

My local running store—Off'n Running Sports located at 2201 Joan Ave. Greensboro, NC—is a major hub for the running community, providing a lot more than just shoes and running gear. The other day, I stopped by the store and chatted with John Dewey (one of the owners) to find out a little more about how the store got started, what his hopes are for the store, and how he feels about the running community.

In 2002, John met Scott Basset (his Off'n Running partner) through their wives. Their spouses were in the same family residency program. John was a physical therapist and Scott was working with Wachovia in the IT Department. Both John and Scott were avid triathletes and became quick friends and began training together. Scott was tiring of the corporate world and came to John with the idea of opening a store for runners.

In 2003, Off'n Running opened in its original location on Pisgah Church Rd. John had physical therapy as a safety net as the store got on its feet. He was working 3 days at his PT job and 4 days at the store. As the business began to grow his PT hours decreased. He still fills in at his old physical therapy job when they need him.

As the business grew, one natural extension was providing race timing and race management services. Scott went into business with Eddie Miller and formed Off'n Running Race Productions. This side of the business has really taken off with over 50 races a year. Scott is now the sole owner of Off'n Running Race Productions.

Scott's race management business is based out of the same location as the store so John and Scott still see a lot of each other, but each have found their niche—John with the store and Scott with race management.

About a year ago, John and Scott moved to their new and bigger location (a free-standing building) on Joan Avenue, just around the corner from the original location. The space they originally leased was slated to be demolished as a newer strip mall was being planned. I was saddened to hear they had to find a new home, because the original location was just a few blocks from one of Greensboro's major parks as well as in close proximity to several greenways. This great location was perfect for group runs from the store. Luckily the building on Joan Ave. became available and it's even closer to the park as well as on the same side of the street!

Future plans? John is very happy with the store's new location, but as some point he'd like to see the opening of a satellite store, maybe in a smaller neighboring community. With the state of the economy, he doesn't see that happening in the near future, but it is an idea he hopes comes to fruition some day.

The services that the store provides from knowledgeable clerks, to group runs, to in-store yoga classes are a big draw for the running community. The store offers a variety of group runs from Women's Night, to a Beginning Runners Group, to their all-call Thursday evening group run. Last summer it was not uncommon to see 40-50 runners standing around the storefront on a Thursday evening around 6:00 waiting for the 6:15 run to start. This group run consists of some of the most elite runners in the area all the way to the beginners. That's what makes this group run so cool. From the novice to the old pro, all are welcome and runner's camaraderie abounds.

I asked John how he felt about the runners in the community. He responded, "They are really, really special people." John was extremely touched by the running community during the move to the new store. The move took place on a Sunday and they weren't sure if they should close the old store and then get some family over to help move the shelving to the new store or what. They figured it would be an all-day affair. But the running community came to the rescue bringing a big box truck as well as manual labor and by 5:00 that afternoon, the old store was vacated and closed and everything was in the new store. John said he and Scott "can't thank the local runners enough for what they did for us that day."

The runners that frequent the shop as well as the group runs and other workshops and programs sponsored by the store have become like family to John. He knows about their families, their jobs, their stresses, their celebrations. One of the Thursday night runners (Emily) even met her husband through the group runs.

John hopes to provide more and more programs and guest speakers for customers like the Safety for Women at Night presented by a local police officer, and Suzanne Duncan's in-store yoga class that meets every Monday Night.

If you live in Greensboro, NC or the surrounding Triad area, make sure you frequent Off'n Running often. They provide a great array of running shoes and running gear. They also provide in-store gate analysis to help determine your foot strike and then help you select the best shoe for your needs. Also check out their website where you'll find several useful tools such as:
Training Programs
Places to Run
Injury Prevention
Training Plans
Predicted Time Calculator
Pace Calculator
Triathlon Pace Calculator
Distance Conversion Calculator
Calorie Counter
and much more!

Do you have a favorite independent running store in your town? If so, leave a comment and tell us about your favortie store, it's name, city, state, and a little about why it's so special. Great free advertising for your favorite running store!


RunningLaur said...

I've recently started working at a local small running store and I love it. There's a real sense of community and I haven't met a runner I don't like!

Lorenda said...

Here in Ann Arbor, MI it's Running Fit! They have 2 locations, one is downtown and the other is out on the West side of Ann Arbor away from downtown and even though it's on a major road it's a short run to endless dirt roads which is where the Thursday night groupies run! We meet at the store and have use of restrooms, some come right from work and need to change. We get leftover stuff from races sometimes! Running Fit puts on quite a few midweek events on Wednesday nights and they are always a lot of fun, some of them are just plain crazy events that one of the owners dreamed up. They even put on 3 Wed. evening triathlons during the summer.
I will try to get a picture of the owners for you but it will be Thursday before I will be able to. I might be able to find one online.

Paul and Beth said...

... all locally owned stores are boarded up where I live... victims of large out of town shopping town tin sheds! I'd love to get involved in local running stores and maybe even own one myself one day. Another great article... keep them coming I'm an avid reader. I love the diversity. You never know what will be next!

RunnerDude said...

Hey RunningLaur! That's awesome! I'd definitely buy shoes from you!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Lorenda! What an awesome opportunity Running Fit offers it's running community. You guys are definitley lucky to have such a dedicated store like we have here with Off'n Running!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Paul and Beth! I think you're on to something there....maybe you should contact John and Scott and/or the owner of Running Fit that Lorenda mentioned and get some feedback on how to get a running store up and running. Hey, that's a great name for the store!! Up-and-Runnin' :-)

Lorenda said...

I don't think running stores have to worry too much about mall sporting goods stores.
The thing about a "real" running store is that it is the only place to get "real" running shoes. The shoes you get at Foot Locker, for example, are not the same ones. They have the same brand names but they aren't the "real" running shoes. I wouldn't get very far if I ran in shoes from those places, I need the pronater shoes. I don't even understand all that stuff about the insides of the shoes but the Running Fit people do. Many of the shoes I've seen in places like Foot Locker or Dicks Sporting Goods cost MORE than the Asics Gel Foundation 8s that I buy at Running Fit. Also, you pay a lot for shoes with a pro sport player on them and they are just for looks.
I will never forget the time I was in a large dept store and saw Asics shoes, the sign said BASICS!! Somebody must have thought that little logo thingy was a B!
Well, I'm off to run across a big bridge tomorrow morning! Hope Runner Dude has a great Labor Day!

RunnerDude said...

Well Said Lorenda! You enjoy the holiday weekend too!

Adam said...

I LOVE my local running store (Sole Sports in Tempe, AZ). I probably spend $5/pair more on shoes, but it is WELL worth it.

crgilvr said...

Thanks for this post. I grew up with John (our Mom's are best friends) and I've bought shoes from him long distance. Now that I live in Chapel Hill it's a lot easier!

RunnerDude said...

Hey crgilvr! Welcome to the blog! And Welcome to NC! That's so cool that you grew up with John!