Full disclosure: I haven't bought a pair of running shoes anywhere but Skinny Raven Sports in more than 10 years. Casual shoes I'll buy anywhere, but I go to Skinny Raven because of the knowledgeable staff, the free gait analyses, and harder-to-find brands that they offer. So I was understandably looking forward to my first visit to their new satellite store at the west end of Dimond Boulevard.
Work at the new location has been steady since last summer, when they laid the groundwork for an 85-meter track for testing shoes. The track was completed before the snow fell, but any running done on it wasn't performed by paying customers. The store officially opened, without fanfare, on Dec. 29.
The store has more in mind for the track than just trying out a new pair of kicks, according to John Clark, whose official title is "Prime Minister of Purchasing" -- but is alternately referred to as the "athletic shoe buyer" for both the older downtown store and the new location. Clark says that the small track may host some youth events.
Little kids can get burned out before one lap on a standard quarter-mile track, Clark says. A shorter track allows them to complete more laps before they use up all their energy. The new track takes 17 laps to complete a mile circuit.
"Plus," Clark adds, "it'll be awesome for spike nights." Spike nights, a long-time tradition of Skinny Raven, allows track and cross-country running teams from local schools to come into the store for exclusive shopping hours, with a discount to boot. Clark says that they've been discussing sponsorship for this year's events.
"Nike's going to come up, and possibly bring some elite athletes," Clark says. He adds that it's more likely during the fall cross-country running season than the spring track and field season, simply because the track may not be thawed out in time for full use by then.
But while the outside is shrouded in snow, what can customers expect inside? When they say "Skinny Mini," in reference to the new store, they aren't kidding. The inside is small, but the merchandise is spaced out so the room doesn't feel too tight. This sparse stocking unfortunately limits the selection at Skinny Mini. Warm wood paneling lines the walls, with thick wood blocks supporting the wide selection of shoes.
The walls are also peppered with an array of medals, including a bronze medal from the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Store managers Andrew Richie and Jerry Ross explain that the owner amassed the collection from eBay over time.
"We're really happy with the aesthetic," Richie says.
The shoe selection is still rich, with casual wear featuring the popular Bog Boots ($90 and up) and Danskos ($115 and up for adult sizes), including ones painted by local artist Romney Dodd ($235). Athletic shoes are also featured, including an odd-looking one reminiscent of Skechers' fat-soled Shape-ups. Richie explains that they are a new "recovery shoe" known as the Hoka One One Hubble ($170), providing high levels of cushion for the days after a particularly long or intense run.
Much of the footwear inventory is similar to the downtown location, although the brand Miz Mooz is only available at the new location because of contractual agreements with another downtown distributor that prevents the original Skinny Raven location from selling them. The Nike apparel in the store is also exclusive to the new branch.
Apparel and accessory selection is certainly a weak point of the new store, with only a few racks offering water bottles, athletic and casual socks, and the requisite hooded sweatshirts bearing the Skinny Raven logo ($50). But Skinny Raven has always been about the shoes, and anyone headed to the Jodphur entrance out at Kincaid Park would do well to stop in and check out the selection.
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