What makes specialty running stores so special? I sought out the advice of Charlotte and Dave, two shop owners, to find out. One of the first questions I asked was, “What is the drive to running a store when it’s so tough to stay in business?” Their answers were unanimous: passion, which is something that runners know quite a lot about. Both Charlotte and Dave are runners and have knowledge of shoes and running attire that you probably won’t find at the big chain sporting goods stores.

Here are several things that set the small specialty stores apart from the big boys:

  • Aside from buying your shoes from actual runners, you get the benefit of being properly fitted in a shoe suited for your running style. There are also brands of shoes at specialty running stores that you won’t find in the bigger stores.
  • Running specialty stores face stiff competition from both Internet sales and bigger stores. They rely on excellent customer service and word-of-mouth advertising.
  • These stores are also a valuable resource for race information in your area. Many of them carry brochures for coaching, personal training, chiropractors and therapeutic massage.
  • The chain megastore might offer three or four brands with a few models for each brand. I get weak in the knees when I see eight different brands and six or seven models per brand at specialty running stores.
  • Runners love “stuff” like watches, sunglasses, compression socks, arm bands, hats, and all kinds of attire for any season, which are readily available at these shops.
  • Small running stores are active in their communities, offering race sponsorships and hosting fun runs. These fun runs are often attended by vendors who will actually let you wear attire or test drive the latest shoe. How great is running in a new pair of shoes while under no pressure to buy them?

I consider myself lucky to have spent time at specialty running stores like Marathon Sports and Charles River Running, both in Massachusetts. Do you have a favorite running store? Do they suit your needs, and do you send business their way? Have you participated in their fun runs? Check out your local store; they do a lot for the running community. Let’s do our part and support them.