The state of Arkansas is known for a few things – its hot springs, the home of Walmart, poultry production and the nation’s only active diamond mine among them.
Two of the state’s running stores are making a strong case that Arkansas gain notoriety for something else: resilience.
In recent weeks, two Arkansas shops, Rock City Running in Little Rock and True Grit Running Company in Fort Smith, faced unexpected adversity that challenged their resolve and their respective futures. Both, however, displayed strength, resilience, and spirit and have recovered in quick time.
A Car Runs Through True Grit Running
About 11:15 a.m. on Tuesday, April 18, a car crashed through True Grit Running Company’s Rogers Avenue storefront, ripping through product displays and mannequins before stopping at a pillar in the center of the shop’s retail floor.
“The car made it into our showroom completely and with room to spare,” True Grit owner Melissa Vitale reports.
The crash shattered the store’s exterior glass, mangled window framing and damaged the showroom floor. It also sent inventory, including the store’s nutrition cart, flying toward the rear of the store.
“And our Garmin case is no more,” Vitale adds.
Soon after the crash, the fire department arrived and removed the white sedan from True Grit’s showroom. Thereafter, True Grit employees, family and friends poured into the store to assist with clean up, using the store’s rear warehouse space as a product triage area of sorts. The store’s Oofos rep visited with coffee and the local Chick-fil-A supplied an afternoon meal.
By evening, the store’s windows were boarded up, providing Vitale a small measure of peace and security amid a harrowing day. The next morning, True Grit reopened for business.
“We got right back to it, and outside of some plywood covering up a window, you wouldn’t know anything happened,” says Vitale, who worried the store might be shuttered for weeks when she first saw the wreckage.
Planning to do a spring sale at the end of April, Vitale accelerated those plans and hosted an aptly named “Doorbuster” sale starting on April 20. The sale generated the two biggest revenue days in True Grit’s seven-year history. The store’s speedy recovery proved its name a fitting one.
“While traumatic, I think the event reinvigorated us,” Vitale says. “We were able to get through this together, heal and gather new momentum and good vibes.”
A Tornado Tears Up Rock City Running
Around 2:20 p.m. on March 31, just hours after Rock City Running opened packet pickup for the Capital City Classic 10k with a line extending out the door and down the block, an EF3 tornado tore through the Little Rock store.
Though none of the dozen or so people in the running store were seriously hurt – thanks to the noble-minded efforts of Rock City Running owner Bill Torrey and others ushering folks to safety – the twister ripped off the building’s roof and left the entire retail store a garbled mess of debris.
“We managed to get out some Garmins and the cash in the register, but everything else – the inventory, display cases, furniture — all gone,” Torrey reports.
The windows and doors of Rock City Running and its commercial neighbors have been boarded up since the devastating March 31 event while temporary fencing prohibits anyone from entering the premises. Given the extensive damage, the shopping complex is likely to be razed.
In the aftermath of the storm, Little Rock’s running community rallied around Torrey, a longtime fixture in the local running scene, and his 10-year-old retail store. On April 8, some 350 people participated in a fun run to support Rock City Running’s recovery while others made donations to the tune of more than $50,000.
“We’re fortunate and blessed,” Torrey says of the support that came his store’s way. “We have a family that’s been so supportive and couldn’t be luckier for that.”
Now, Torrey and his team are hustling to recover and reopen so they can resume serving the Little Rock community.
Nineteen days after the tornado, Torrey signed the lease on a new storefront about a mile away from Rock City Running’s former home. He and his team continue the process of building out the space and working with vendors to secure product. Torrey hopes to reopen Rock City Running in its new home on June 1, an admittedly ambitious target.
“But we have a team of go-getters who just know how to get things done,” Torrey says. “I know we’ll be coming back even stronger.”