By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
51,318 pairs of shoes.
That’s how many West Seattle Runner has sold in the past 13 years.
The total will certainly grow over the next three days, as West Seattle’s only running shop – a longtime WSB sponsor – celebrates its 13th anniversary with a sale and other events.
We visited the shop this week to talk with co-proprietors Tim and Lori McConnell, who we first met in February 2009, in an interview for this story about their plan to open the shop. At the time, they were not only working on their shop’s original space – at Charlestown Center, from which they moved to 2743 California SW six years later – but also inviting for name suggestions.
West Seattle Runner’s location isn’t all that’s changed over the years. But as an entrepreneur, what sticks with you might not be the first thing someone else would guess. For example: “We’re on our third dog,” says Tim, shortly after we ask for reminiscences.
After a side chat about pets, Lori notes that they founded the West Seattle Float Dodger 5K run/walk two years after opening the shop; it’s become a pre-Grand Parade tradition. Events big and small are woven into West Seattle Runner’s role in the community as more than a place to buy shoes and other gear. They started hosting group runs early on, including fun special events such as the Christmas Light Run – three group runs are part of this weekend’s anniversary festivities – and it wasn’t long before they added the Get Fit West Seattle program (which takes participants from “couch to half-marathon”).
Events and other community involvement would seem to be a major reason why West Seattle Runner is thriving in a world where so much purchasing has moved online. Even during the pandemic-shutdown time, they had weekly online events to connect and communicate with community members. They’ve continued to look for ways to intensify the bond – Tim notes the medal-hanging display created behind the counter, where they can show off the running medals that customers are so proud to show them.
“That’s why you go into business – to make your community better,” not just to sell merchandise. (The medal hanger is far from the only custom feature they’ve had over the years – even before the pandemic lockdown, Tim came up with protection – “like a sneeze guard” – before it became widespread in businesses. “That was my concept!”)
Now they’re reflecting on 13 years – “ONLY thirteen years, and ‘only’ THIRTEEN years?” they laugh – “I don’t think we could have fathomed what it would be like,” Lori observes. They’ve seen customers’ children come into the store, first as grade-schoolers and eventually as college students. They’ve seen once-teenage employees grow up and move on, too. “At some point, we’re going to (hire someone) who wasn’t even born when we started!” marvels Tim.
Another not-so-secret component of their success is partnership with brands, which means they and their staff get education they can share with customers. That interaction may be a big reason they haven’t suffered from “showrooming” – people coming in to see and handle a product they then buy elsewhere online – as much as some businesses. “Our customers appreciate the resource,” notes Tim. Brand partnership also brings group runs on which you can actually try shoes before you buy them.
The brands they’ve carried have changed and evolved, too – “lots of new brands!” notes Tim – and they keep atop the trends. “Recovery sandals” are big now, for example, and you’ll see colorful options toward the front of the shop.
They’re carrying Birkenstocks now too. And that’s a reminder that you don’t have to be a runner to find something potentially useful at West Seattle Runner. And there’s one overarching rule: “People should know, their feet should not hurt, ever,” declares Tim. “If your feet hurt, you should come see us.”
Other body parts, too – West Seattle Runner frequently partners with local chiropractic and physical-therapy practices – like WSB sponsor Lake Washington Physical Therapy‘s West Seattle office – to offer free seminars and consultations. “We love partnering with local businesses.”
You’ll see some of those partnerships during the anniversary celebration today through Sunday. Here’s the lineup:
SUNDAY: Anniversary sale; shop open 11 am-4 pm. Group run with Saucony demos at 10 am – mimosas and sparkling cider afterward. Bemer demos at the shop all day.
And beyond this weekend, the McConnells are looking forward to the next Float Dodger 5K on July 22nd, a fundraiser again this year for the West Seattle Food Bank – “We always need sponsors, volunteers, and participants!”