The ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic has brought unease to the run specialty marketplace and forced running retailers across the U.S. to take steps designed to protect customers and the business.
“There’s a feeling of uncertainty hovering over everything and you’re not sure where it will go,” says Dave Kazanjian, owner of Methuen, MA-based Whirlaway Sports Center.
Citing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fleet Feet Chicago has suspended group runs as well as racing team and running club activities through the end of March. In Michigan, the Ann Arbor Running Company has similarly discontinued group runs and events, while Whirlaway cancelled its Saucony High School Spike Night planned for March 19. That energy-filled annual event brings more than 100 local athletes into Whirlaway’s doors.
In a March 12 email to customers, the five-unit Philadelphia Runner chain said it planned to continue with its scheduled group runs, though it encouraged participants to allow extra space between others, to avoid group photos, hugs and high fives and to stay home if they were feeling ill. In that same correspondence, Philadelphia Runner spotlighted its measures to ensure hygienic stores, including “even more rigorous” cleaning procedures, such as directing staff to wash hands between customers and sanitizing high-contact areas like counters and door handles.
On its Facebook page, Fleet Feet posted a note from CEO Joey Pointer – a missive later shared by many local Fleet Feet outlets on their own digital channels – detailing efforts to provide a safe environment. Pointer specifically identified in-store cleaning procedures, including having disposable wipes and alcohol-based hand sanitizers for both employee and customer use.
While acknowledging the seriousness of an issue that transcends business concerns, running retailers are nevertheless left to grapple with the uncertainty of a complex, still-unraveling public health crisis impacting routine American life.
Thus far, many running shops are maintaining regular store hours while thoughtfully working to preserve healthy business operations. Ann Arbor Running Company owner Nick Stanko has reduced staff to “keep things simple,” while Philadelphia Runner has touted free shipping from the company’s online store. In Atlanta, West Stride has invited customers to call or email in orders for curbside delivery and encouraged self-care, reminding that being outside and active is key to physical and mental health.