It has been quite an interesting year for run specialty. Check that, it has been an interesting and challenging FOUR MONTHS for run specialty. The impact of store closures and race cancellations mandated by the COVID-19 pandemic mixed in with social unrest around the country created a recipe for disaster for many, disruption for all.
But within that disruption came a number of rays of light among run specialty retailers, most of whom took the “opportunity” of those mandated closures to become even more important to their communities. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the stories we received in researching our annual Best Running Stores feature, which will appear in its entirety in the July 1 issue of Running Insight.
What follows are excerpts those stories from a number of our 2020 Best Running Stores recounting some of their experiences with the impact of COVID-19 and of the country’s period of social unrest. They paint a wonderful picture of the resiliency, perseverance and creativity of this special business.
In Their Words …
Fleet Feet Hartford, Connecticut
Fleet Feet Hartford has formed a non-profit called Footwear with Care in conjunction with the Hartford Police Department and the CT Podiatric Medical Association that provides quality footwear (sneakers in the summer and waterproof/steel-toed boots in the winter) and foot care to its homeless neighbors. (During the COVID pandemic it also provided the homeless with tents, sleeping bags and meals.) Most recently, it hosted a Run Towards Justice to show support for the black community. Nearly 300 people attended and ran a half-mile in silence and in single-file while wearing a face mask, which enabled runners to focus on their breath. The breath that gives us life – the breath that people like George Floyd and Ahumud Aubrey can no longer take – so that each time we go for a run, we are reminded that we all need to work towards justice every day. To treat people with equality, fairness, humility and compassion. To replace prejudice with respect. To do the right thing, even when it's the hard thing.
It was one of the most moving events we've hosted – even the police who were assigned to patrol the event ended up running with us – and when we ran past the restaurants in town where people were dining outside, all the diners stopped eating and drinking to clap and cheer. It was just what our black running friends needed to see and hear.
Fleet Feet Montclair, New Jersey
On April 25th, our town and state of New Jersey were being savaged by COVID-19 and the complexity of the virus was setting in across the country. When we announced our Running Is Not Cancelled Virtual 5K through marathon race, we weren’t sure if people would even want to or feel comfortable participating. The timing and spirit of the event created a great feeling of joy and camaraderie when we are all feeling isolated and uncertain. We had 270 people from all over New Jersey, NYC, Chicago, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Colorado, Great Britain, Germany, Canada and even Australia participate in the weekend’s virtual race. It proved to us that the need to connect and let the world know that we are here for each other is strong.
Lincoln Running Company, Nebraska
When the pandemic hit we were able to keep our employees on the payroll, but even in Nebraska we felt the impact. I (Ann Ringlein, Manager) took the time to deliver all the mail orders by bike! I have delivered over 150 shoes, insoles, apparel, etc. since March – throwing in a tub of cookie dough from the local Downtown Cookie Co on Mondays! That has been a huge hit also. I am still delivering by bike and get requests to have their shoes delivered on Mondays.
Fleet Feet Nashville, Tennessee
Bessie - that’s the name of our truck – transfers inventory across our three stores twice each week but her favorite job is to spread love across Nashville by donating shoes to deserving people and agencies like Room in the Inn and The Nashville Rescue Mission.
Varsity Sports, Louisiana
Like many stores we have been really involved with support programs for the front line in critical care. So I think that is relevant to things we do in 2020. Docs on Duty have 50 pairs of Hokas given to critical care Doctors in BR, Mandeville and New Orleans. Front Line Soles donated a pair of Brooks running shoes to every graduate of Our Lady of the Lake Nursing school who were graduating early to go help with Covid-19 crisis. Front Line donated another 60 shoes to Nurses on the Covid-19 units. Hidden Heroes is donating 60 Brooks shoes to the behind the scenes janitorial staff working to keep the hospitals safe and clean.
Naperville Running Company, Illinois
As I'm typing this right now, Kris Hartner is unboarding our windows, boards painted with a George Floyd mural and decorated with paper hearts and artwork. We're doing all of this and trying to operate during COVID. Just when you think life is crazy (like living through a pandemic), we had to worry about looters destroying our store while peaceful protests walk our streets. We've all had to change the way we do business due to COVID. For us, it was relearning what we've done for 20 years (as our 20th anniversary crept up on us in May). So what makes us unique is our ability to adapt. As a business, as employees, as humans — and our customers have had to do the same. By taking a very over-cautious approach to reopening after COVID lockdown, we knew we would get some pushback. People are frustrated at the restrictions forced upon them during stay-at-home orders and we knew someone would take it out on us. Sure that's happened a few times, but the tremendous amount of support we've received has been unmatched.
Charm City Run, Maryland
Our team's attitude has become especially apparent during the pandemic. Our team members drive shoes to customers' houses every day so they can enjoy their new gear the same day they order. Staff also quickly adapted to leading virtual fittings and essentially becoming shipping facilities to get product out the door from our online stores.