Why Your Local Running Shop Matters


If you run, you are a runner.

It doesn’t matter how fast you run or how long you run, but it doesn’t matter where you buy your running shoes.

There are many places to buy running shoes today — a major sporting goods store, a chain store in a mall, an online retailer, a discount website, or a specialty running store. The best way to shop for your next pair of running shoes is to go to your local running store and spend half an hour with a knowledgeable shoe fitter who knows how different shoes fit, feel and run, and which models work best for the size and shape of your feet and the peculiarities of your gait.

Not only will you be amazed at how the different shoes feel on your feet, but you will definitely feel energized for your own running. It doesn’t matter if you’re a young, fast runner, someone who’s been jogging forever, a middle-aged back-of-the-packer, or a complete novice at the thing we all love almost every day.

That includes Gina Kutz, a resident of Fitchburg, Wisconsin, who decided to give it her all during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020 because she had to work out at a time when gyms were closed.

She admits she knew nothing about running shoes when she entered the store a locally run Fleet Feet shop and was adapted by shop owner Jessica Anderson for her first pair of running shoes. Kutz learned why some runners need more support and stability from their shoes, why it’s best to have a different pair of shoes for running trails or running faster workouts, and that most shoes last 300 to 400 miles to have.

“I wasn’t a runner at the time, so I needed all the help I could get,” Kutz recalls. “When I first walked into the store I was intimidated but Jessica made me feel welcome and calm. Not only did she help me find my first real pair of running shoes, but she also helped me start my journey as a runner.”

Kutz has since run a marathon, two half marathons and more than a dozen 5Ks. She was back at her local running store to shop for more shoes, sports bras, running apparel, and accessories. The more she visited, the more she realized that it was less about the gear and more about the mood.

“It’s one of those places where you go and you’re instantly inspired,” says Kutz. “It’s not about buying things, it’s just about being around active runners and people who help you with whatever you need that makes you feel comfortable.”

America’s Best Running Shops

Last month, the The 50 Best Running Stores in America have been announced by a running industry organization that hosts The Running Event in Austin, Texas each fall. The winning stores will be honored at an industry celebration on December 1 when the 2022 Running Store of the Year is announced.

“Our team evaluated hundreds of store submissions and had the pleasure of learning about the races, clubs, community service efforts, employees and overall culture that make every running specialty shop a true force for good,” said Christina Henderson, Executive Director of The Running Incident. “The industry is made up of extremely passionate and committed retailers and our team knows there are many incredible stores that don’t make the list. These successful stores have demonstrated a commitment to their customers, employees, community and the growth of the sport that brings us together: running.”

The approximately 900 running specialty shops in the USA have been the lifeblood of recreational running for more than 40 years, providing a sense of community and spreading their knowledge and passion to runners of all skill levels. Yes, many had a running geek quirk, but the expert shoe fitters are there to help any runner find their next pair of running shoes.

You can buy bread, milk, vegetables, and ground beef at a chain supermarket and your local gas station, but you’re probably better off buying these items at a bakery, butcher, or traditional grocery store. When you’re looking for quality and service, you get what you pay for, and the expert shoe fitting and customer service (not to mention the smart running techniques, inspiration, and encouragement) you’ll get at a specialty running store far outweighs the odds Benefits of buying shoes at a discount and having them delivered to your door two days later for free.

“If you don’t sit well, you have nothing,” said Kris Hartner. Owner of Naperville Running Company in suburban Chicago, which has twice won the Running Store of the Year award. “It’s an individual process, as every shoe brand and model fits a little differently. The best way to find out what works is to try multiple models.”

In addition to a knowledgeable and personalized shoe fitting service, most running stores offer some form of gait analysis, a larger selection of styles than most online sites, malls or large department stores, plus apparel and accessories, and plenty of inspiration.

Specialty running stores offer a wider selection of shoes than large retailers and online discount websites, plus they offer invaluable expertise in shoe fitting and running. (Photo: Courtesy of Naperville Running Company)

Big things come in small shops

Small, independent running shops have always been the heart and soul of running. They are all about community; Not only do they support and encourage local runners, they also support local schools, races and training programs. Also, most can refer you to a local doctor who can quickly and effectively diagnose any running-related pain you may be experiencing.

These are all things that Josh and Kara Levinson focused on when developing the collection Charm City Run operates specialty stores in Maryland and made it one of the biggest success stories in the running industry of the last two decades. They opened their first community-based business in Timonium, north of Baltimore, in 2002 and have seen it thrive on the foundation of good customer service and a friendly local atmosphere.

They replicated that experience and opened new stores across the state with great success, earning national recognition as Running shop of the year 2016. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, they adapted with improved online sales that allowed them to share their shoe fitting expertise, local knowledge and world-class customer service, not to mention free home delivery.

As the pandemic subsided, the noticeable increase in recreational running was evident and the store thrived – a testament to the connections to the community that the stores and their staff had worked so hard to build over the years, but also because of the great dedication they put into their Locals expended community when the need struck.

“There’s been a tremendous uptick in the business,” Levinson said. “Sometimes we offered our customers more, but I think people really focused on local offerings. Nobody wants to see many local businesses disappear, but surviving is not easy. Local shops just won’t stay nearby. They must be supported. I am proud of our employees and that we persevered.”


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