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Run community

The power of a local run store

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When you shop local, you get to make connections, talk to experts, try on gear, and learn from stores and shop owners who have decades of experience.

Owners of four running stores share how they support and inspire the run community in their cities. Their local shops have provided decades of advice and expertise to runners from all walks of life.

Charm City Run

Baltimore, MD

Fleet Feet Chicago

Chicago, IL

Fleet Feet Chicago Nashville

Nashville, TN

Runners Athletic Company

Central Michigan

Charm City Run

Charm City Run owners Josh and Kara Levinson, and their children

Charm City Run, Baltimore, MD

After college, Josh Levinson moved to Austin to attend business school. He and his wife Kara would run on Town Lake, noticing that a local running store put out water and Powerade for runners. After a disastrous first marathon, Kara bought him a training program from that same local running store. The store hosted people from all walks of life — nobody cared what you liked it or where you came from. On a long run, it just mattered that you found someone who was your same pace. 

The interaction with that local running store shaped Josh and Kara as runners and helped develop their path to shop ownership. 

Brooks: How is your local running store important to the community? 

Josh and Kara: Running provides an instant sense of community. You can be with people and have a sense of being part of a good movement without having to talk a lot. Running stores can literally fuel the community. In the last twenty years, Charm City Run has managed training programs for over 2,500 people a year, hosted 80,000 finishers at its events, and donated $1.5 million dollars to community causes.

Charm City Run

Brooks: Why should runners visit your local running store?

Josh and Kara: To engage in the running community and to shop local. Local companies do better for their employees, for the environment, and for their community. Plus, we offer technical expertise, we treat people with respect, and we have fun!

Brooks: What do you love about the Maryland running community?

Josh and Kara: It's gritty, it's diverse, it's sticky. People have pride in small business here. They care about the fabric of their community and the small businesses that give it personality. We are honored to serve the runners and walkers of Maryland.

Fleet Feet Chicago

Fleet Feet Chicago owners Lisa and Dave Zimmer

Fleet Feet Chicago, Chicago IL

When the building that housed Fleet Feet's Old Town store caught fire in August 2015, the community came together to support not only the store they loved, but its employees too. 

“It was an eye-opening experience of the impact one business can have on a community,” said co-owner Lisa Zimmer.

“Our legacy will be the connections we have made and not the shoes we have sold. Our employees, training programs participants, racing teams, running clubs, group runs, hydration stations and event volunteers weave together to become the fabric of who Fleet Feet Chicago is and how we contribute to the Chicago running community,” explained co-owner Dave Zimmer.

Our legacy will be the connections we have made and not the shoes we have sold.

Lisa Zimmer, co-owner of Fleet Feet Chicago

Brooks: Why should runners visit your local running store?

Lisa and Dave: Store owners and the people working in local running stores bring a passion and commitment to the sport and customers. We have built our lives on helping others achieve their goals. To put it simply, we exist to be of service to the athlete.

Fleet Feet Chicago

Brooks: How has the running industry changed since this store opened 25 years ago?

Lisa and Dave: Many of the reasons people start running and stay in running have remained the same: fitness, mental health and to be a part of the community. During Covid we saw that so many people come into running for mental health reasons.

During our 25 years we have had to learn to accommodate and embrace the online shopper. We now do virtual fits, curbside pickup and fulfill needs online but even while providing those services nothing can really replace the one on one in-store experience with great customer service.

Brooks: What do you love about the Chicago running community?

Lisa and Dave: Our favorite part is without a doubt the people. Over our 25 years we have made lifelong friendships, watched student athletes become accomplished adult athletes, watched friendship turn into marriage and then produce children who now work in our stores. Twenty-five years has given us perspective on how running makes a difference in people's lives.

Fleet Feet Nashville

Fleet Feet Nashville, Nashville, TN

Christi Beth Adams found her way to Fleet Feet Nashville store ownership via an employee program.

“I actually came into the company as an employee right as the existing store in Brentwood was turning 4 years old. Turns out, the work was a natural fit for me and the woman who started the store was wanting out. I didn't have the money to buy it from her outright, so I thought that was the end of it. Fortunately for me, Fleet Feet created an employee to ownership pathway, and I was one of the first folks they offered the position to. I said yes and three long, hard years later, I bought the store and became a bona fide run shop owner,” she said.

Christi Beth has now owned Fleet Feet Nashville for 20 years.

Brooks: How is your local running store important to the community?

Christi Beth: I've always considered our shops to be more like community centers: a place for learning and connecting. It's a natural fit to work alongside of incredible run groups like Girls on the Run, Black Men Run, Achilles, Amputee Blade Runners, and Black Girls Run. It's also important to us to be good stewards of the resources we have at our disposable — like returned or donated shoes. We take shoes in like-new condition and donate them to local non-profits.

I’ve always considered our shops to be more like community centers: a place for learning and connecting.

Christi Beth Adams, owner of Fleet Feet Nashville
Fleet Feet Nashville

Brooks: should runners visit your local running store?

Christi Beth: Because everyone needs more of what we've got! Again, not so much the gear — though we've got that — it's more about the encouragement and good vibes. If you want to be your best self physically, mentally, and spiritually, we can be a part of that journey.

Brooks: What is your favorite part about the Nashville running community?

Christi Beth: I do think we share a similar mindset with how we handle hard things physically and emotionally, and that creates a common bond that transcends age, body type, race, gender. As we like to say at Fleet Feet Nashville: ‘All people. All paces.'

Owner Bill Thompson

Owner Bill Thompson with the Runners Athletic Company team

Runners Athletic Company, Central Michigan

Runners Athletic Company owner Bill Thompson grew up in Flint, Michigan, where he ran high school track and cross country.

“All my middle school, high school, and college running experiences led me to working at a running store, where I realized how much I enjoyed the aspect of helping others with their running goals. From there, I had a plan to open my own running store and with the help of my family, I made that dream a reality,” he said.

Brooks: How is your local running store important to the community?

Bill: A community running store is a place where we provide a personal connection. People can come to us for information, education, and support for their passion of running as well.

We make the time to give back to the communities we are a part of — in order to have a business in the community, you have to give back to that community.

A community running store is a place where we provide a personal connection. People can come to us for information, education, and support for their passion of running as well.

Bill Thompson, Owner of Runners Athletic Company
Owner Bill Thompson

Brooks: What makes you excited about the future of running?

Bill: Seeing more advancement and technology in footwear; how it will ultimately get better for the customer, and how we will play a big role in being able to educate that customer on the footwear.

What is your favorite thing about the Flint running community?

Bill: I love the connectedness of the running community and how passionate they are about running, health and fitness, and each other. Our running community is one body, all committed to friendships, camaraderie, and being a part of the experience of running. Lifting each other up in their successes and motivating each other in their runs.

Find your local running store

Are you ready to shop local? Find a local running store in your neighborhood.