Out There: Lace Up Local

You won't get this kind of service at a big box store or online retailer. Photo: Robert Murphy

The most valuable things a runner needs can’t be bought on clearance at Amazon.com.

We live in crappy economic times, especially if you’re an athlete. When disposable income is hard to come by, we buy new shoes less frequently, gym memberships are cut from the household budget, and fewer race entries are submitted to save money.

We also try to find savings where we can. In a world of Wal-Marts, Amazon.coms, and Dick’s Sporting Goods competing for your business, flashy advertising and buzzwords are becoming the norm in sports retail, all under the guise of helping you save money. In comparison, a local mom-and-pop running business can seem on par with a lemonade stand.

Yet you’ll never see me order socks from Amazon.com. Call me old-fashioned, but I like those lemonade stands.

It takes a lot of faith to be a small business owner in the age of the big-box conglomerate. However, if you ask most people who own a running, cycling, or triathlon store, they’ll tell you they aren’t doing it for the money. They’re not millionaires, nor do they ever expect to be. They own their shops simply because they’re one of us. They’ve done the same races, worn the same shoes, eaten the same nutrition, and faced the same challenges.

The people who own and work at local stores aren’t pimply-faced 18 year-olds simply punching a timecard. They’re actual athletes, people who love the sport just as much as you do. You’re guaranteed first-hand information as to why a product works. They know what it’s like to have shin splints, how it feels to train in 100-degree heat, or how ravenously hungry a runner can be after a 18-mile training session.

To top it all off, they’re honest  – if a product isn’t right, they won’t force it on you just to make a profit. They’re also brave enough to say your ass does, in fact, look fat in those running shorts.

RELATED: Survival Of The Fittest

The mom-and-pop stores eschew the corporate advertising scheme of mailing 20 glossy pages to their customers every month. Instead, don’t be surprised if you get an e-mail one day from the shop owner, letting you know they just got a shipment of your favorite flavor of gel. In spite of their small size, local shops are well stocked, and often have what you need. On the rare occasion they don’t, they’ll order it.

They sponsor local events so you can race. They host clinics so you can learn from the experts. They schedule group workouts so you can connect with other athletes in your area. They’re active and engaged – when was the last time the CEO of Wal-Mart got down on the floor to demonstrate how to use a foam roller?

My local shop, Triple Sports, is my home away from home. I know where they keep the mini-fridge full of beer, and sometimes, if they know I’m stopping by that day, they’ve got cupcakes, too.

If I can’t make it out to the shop before a race, I can e-mail them and get my items shipped to me. They know what address to send it to…not because it’s saved in a file somewhere, but because they’ve actually been there. Their employees have keys to my front door, and volunteer to take care of my dogs when I’m out of town for a race.

I’m guaranteed to see old friends every time I’m there, and I usually leave having made a new friend or two. On more than one occasion, I’ve made a quick stop to pick up one item and ended up staying for hours just to hang out with local athletes.

Without customers, we’d lose the communities anchored by these shops. locally-owned store isn’t just a place to buy quality goods at a fair price – it’s a home for the people who make up the unique athletic communities across the United States. Our local shops need our support just as much as you need theirs. Perhaps we could save two or three dollars at a big-box store store. But of all the things I’ve learned from my local shop, there’s been one critical and profound lesson:

The most valuable things a runner needs can’t be bought on clearance at Amazon.com.

Is your local running store one of the best in America? Nominate your shop at http://running.competitor.com/50-best-running-stores, and we may feature it in the December issue of Competitor Magazine!

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About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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