Runner’s Roost owner reflects on four decades
The end of this month will mark a very sad time for the local running community — After more than four decades in business, the running specialty store Runner’s Roost will be closing its doors.
Owner Steve Norris hopes to sell the business by Jan. 31.
The main reason Norris has decided to sell the store, which sells running shoes and apparel for teams and recreational runners, is due mainly to the increase in Internet commerce.
Internet sales get stronger every year, according to Norris, 74, who has been coaching Darien High School Girls Cross Country and indoor and outdoor track for 42 years.
“I didn’t want it to close,” added Norris, a Norwalk resident. “The Internet push has gotten stronger and stronger over the past 25 years.”
“A customer comes in and we work with them 20 minutes to 30 minutes,” he said. “Then they leave and see if they can do better somewhere else.”
Also, about 25 years ago, shoe companies began to name their shoes with version numbers of the same shoe.
“The idea behind that is a consumer can go online and get the next version without too much worry that it’s going to be changed much,” Norris said.
Also, shoes in each brand are available online in multiple colors but Norris mainly carries one color.
Runner’s Roost originally opened on 425 Post Road. In 2016, it moved to its current location.
“We moved here thinking that we would get more walk-in traffic, which we do,” Norris said. “About one-third of the people who come through the door are walk-in people. They are going to Stop & Shop or they are bringing clothes to the dry cleaner.”
However, he said, the increased traffic from the new location wasn’t sufficient because Internet sales “keep getting stronger every year.”
In the past, Runner’s Roost sold tennis, basketball, and cross training shoes.
“That was a significant part of our sales,” Norris said.
Now, the store only sells running shoes.
Customers are mainly from Darien, Norwalk, and New Canaan.
The store’s competitors, Norris said, are Ridgefield Running Company, Fleet Feet in Westport, and Sound Runner in Fairfield. Also, there is New Balance in New Canaan, which just carries that brand.
The store also sells competition shoes, including track and cross country spikes.
“We are virtually unique there,” Norris said. “We have high jump, shot put and discus, long jump, and javelin shoes.”
Asics has been the top selling brand for the past 30 years, Norris said. Other strong sellers are Brooks and New Balance.
A newer brand that’s getting a lot of buzz is Hoka, he said.
“It’s a maximum shoe. The sole is the thickest of what is available,” said Norris, who wears the Hoka Bondi. “Older people like that because it reduces the impact and they don’t feel it in their joints so much.”
Norris said he strongly encourages all runners to shop in a specialty running store when purchasing running shoes.
“In a specialty running store, an average time someone is there is 20 minutes, but some want to stay a lot longer,” he said.
In addition, when ordering shoes online, there is “nobody there to suggest to you that the stability that you want is not being provided, or this shoe is not flexible enough or this shoe doesn’t meet your arch properly,” he said.
Runner’s Roost sells more women’s shoes than men’s shoes.
“Men will frequently beat the shoe to death because they want to keep wearing it,” Norris said. “Women are more focused on the cosmetics of the shoe and if it gets dirty.”
In the spring of 1976, Norris was approached by the Darien High School head boys’ coach for track, who asked him if he wanted to be an assistant coach for track.
He was interested.
“Twenty-four hours later, the New Canaan High School athletic director called me and said there is an assistant track coach position available for the spring,” he said.
“Had he called me first, I would have probably taken that one. I graduated from New Canaan High School,” Norris said. “He was 24 hours too late.”
The two junior high schools in Darien had excellent girls’ teams at that time, according to Norris.
After the spring season, both head coaches for the boys’ and girls’ track teams announced they weren’t going to be back.
“I knew how good the junior high school girls were going to be,” said Norris, who was a substitute mathematics teacher at the time. “I watched the high school girls train the prior year, and I wanted the girls’ job.”
In all his years of coaching, the most notable person Norris said he has coached is Stevie Kremer, “who has won a couple of national championships at mountain running.”
Norris said he was responsible for starting girls’ cross country teams in the FCIAC (Fairfield County Interscholastic Conference).
“In the fall of 1975, there were maybe four schools which had girls running on the boys’ team. These were Greenwich, Wilton, Norwalk and St. Joseph,” he said. “We didn’t have any separation.”
He said he knew he could get enough girls in Darien interested in cross country and knew that the other four schools would also be interested.
“We ran four meets,” he said. “When the boys had a meet against Greenwich, we ran the girls with them, in a separate girls’ race.”
In 1976, the FCIAC “allowed us to run a girls race,” he said.
Norris has been running since he was 14 and a high school freshman.
His personal bests include:
1:54 half mile
49:1 quarter mile
Today, he averages three weekly runs of three miles each week. He races during the summer in the Waveny Park cross country series in New Canaan on Tuesdays. They are between 2,000 and 5,000 meter distances. He also cycles.
The next chapter
Norris plans to continue coaching after he closes the store.
In addition, he runs a cross country running camp in Vermont and may try to enhance the camp.
Regarding Runner’s Roost, he said he will most miss working with regular customers who have been coming to the store for many years. Through the decades, he has helped multiple generations of the same families.
“We’ve been proud to serve the running community for 41 years and we appreciate the support that so many of you have given us,” Norris said. “So many of our people come back year after year.”