Building a Running Community: Mill City Running

Running across a bridge

A good local running store is more than just a place where you buy shoes and socks. It can become a place where you meet new people, spend as many hours socializing as shopping, and identify with the community defined by that store, its surroundings, and the ambitions and accomplishments of the people there.

It can be a place, as the theme to Cheers describes, where “everybody knows your name.”

There are plenty of examples, both nationwide and within our home base of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro. But one that sticks out is Mill City Running, which in a few short years has taken on the feel of a favorite old haunt, and whose group runs are becoming legendary for the enthusiasm and size of the crowds. Whether it’s a pre-breakfast run on “Flapjack Fridays” or a Wednesday-evening run to a local brewery, this community-building is exactly what landed MCR on Competitor Magazine’s list of “The 50 Best Running Stores in America for 2015.”

We talked to Jeff Metzdorff, who with his wife Bekah co-founded the shop in 2013, about why and how MCR has become “more than just a shoe store,” and exactly the kind of place with whom we at Fitsok love doing business: MCR is more than a shoe store. It’s a resource, it’s a sounding board, it’s a place to meet up with friends. In 2013 we saw an opportunity to bring something different to the Twin Cities running scene and through a combination of luck and hard work we’ve been able to carve out a niche in the market. We didn’t see it being as fun and energetic as it is. We had plenty of group runs early on where it was two people and Bekah running, but we stuck with it, and that was important, the consistency. Looking back, we considered a “great” turnout 15 people. It slowly and steadily built, and runs of five people became 25, which became 65. What I love is the number of people from the early days of 3-5-person group runs who are still running with us today. A lot of them were beginner runners then. These folks have made a decision to make running a part of their lives, and we’re glad we can help them on their path. Having spent time living outside the Twin Cities helped me realize how strong our local scene is. We have some of the best urban running in the US – the lakes, the river road, and myriad trails that connect them, plus parks like Theo Wirth, Afton, Hyland, etc. We’re fortunate to have the river a few blocks from our door, and our proximity to those trails has helped facilitate the growth of our running groups. Most important is the staff that has found their way to us.

They run the gamut from run specialty veterans to no retail experience, from casual runners to sponsored professionals. And they’re each more excited to help a beginner get fit for their first pair of shoes than if Prefontaine himself walked in looking for a waffle racer. We want to see our community continue to grow. It benefits the larger running and outdoors scene if we can be a catalyst, getting more individuals out and moving. But we can’t lose sight of what got us to this point. For the community, this means providing unique and exciting events; from the retail angle, it means providing the best service possible. -- If you live in (or plan to visit) the Twin Cities, visit Mill City Running on Hennepin Ave. near downtown Minneapolis.