By: Brian Metzler
For the previous four years, Denver’s Berkeley Park Running Company was one of the quirkiest and tiniest running stores in the country.
Operating out of a tiny, two-story wooden house built in 1896, the small shop focused almost solely on trail and ultrarunning gear, along with the engaging community and authentic vibe that go with it. It was a throwback to what running retail shops used to be — cool, connected and close to the sport — with a touch of modern sophistication, a smart range of product offerings from a limited number of vendors, and fun group runs and events.
Berkeley Park Running Company might have been small, but it proved that the formula for retail success is based on connecting with the local community. It developed a passionate and diverse following — its loyal customers and fervent racing team members have been endearingly known as the Wild Jackalopes of Berkeley Park — and the quaint house, with its colorful Colorado-flag logo painted on the old wooden siding, and small backyard, was a cool hangout for post-run gatherings, athlete speaker nights and, of course, a place to buy the best trail running gear.
Unfortunately, the unique property that housed the shop was slated for development and was torn down in late July. But the good news is that the store has reincarnated itself in a new location about 5 miles to the southwest in the suburb of Lakewood. (The store is in a temporary space until the build-out of the new retail storefront is complete.) The business also changed hands to a new ownership group committed to the welcoming atmosphere founder Chris Sullivan and chief cohort Phil Snyder fostered since the beginning.
Trail running has been booming for years, and that’s especially so in the fast-growing Denver area, which boasts 300 days of sunshine, a large, outdoorsy population and relatively quick access to hundreds of miles of trails. While Denver doesn’t have any proper trails in its city parks, it’s close enough to authentic trail systems in the foothills of the outlying areas of Lakewood, Golden, Littleton and Boulder, and, of course, it’s an easy drive to bigger mountains further west.
The new ownership group is determined to maintain the special atmosphere that Sullivan and Snyder crafted. The new investors are all committed trail runners who live locally: Peter Downing, 65, a marketing guru, co-founder of the Suffer Better non-profit and 1992 Leadville 100 runner-up; Michael Hewitt, 51, an orthopedic surgeon with numerous ultra-distance podium finishes; Corky Dean, 60, the head cross country and track coach at Kent Denver High School; and Ryan Kirchoff, 40, a business owner and road and trail runner with a range of good race results and a few Fastest Known Time records to his credit.
“I think it’s been successful because of what these guys did and the community they developed,” Downing says. “That’s the reason it is going forward. And honestly, it won’t work without that.”
The new 1,100-foot retail space near 26th and Kipling in Lakewood is a slightly larger than the confines of the old house, allowing BPRC to expand its product offerings and services, but it’s also closer to some of the most popular trails on the western edge of the Denver metro area — including Green Mountain Park, Apex Park and North Table Mountain Park where Snyder has hosted low-key trail runs on Tuesdays and Fridays. And it’s adjacent to Crown Hill Park, which has 10.2 miles of trails that will be perfect for the store’s happy hour runs on Thursday evenings.
However, Berkeley Park will also face increased competition in its new location. It’s situated relatively close to the successful Runner’s Roost franchise in Lakewood owned by Sonya Estes, plus Runner’s Roost bought out the previously independent Runner’s High store in Golden in July, becoming the 10th store in the Denver-based retail group.
Sullivan and Snyder agreed the past year, when Covid-19 precautions didn’t allow for group runs and other fun store events — like the UTMBière Mile — was disappointing. Not having regular connections to its customers on a casual basis took some of the fun out of it. The new Berkeley Park store won’t fully open for a few weeks, but already it’s attracting dozens of its faithful customers to group runs out of its temporary location.
“The part of it that I have enjoyed most and the reason I am excited about the future of this shop — and the part that I missed the most during the pandemic — is the people,” says Snyder, 52, who is known around Colorado for his trail running passion. “I feel that the ultrarunning community is one of the best sports communities in the world. It’s a hard sport and, to quote [Leadville 100 luminary] Ken Chlouber, ‘if you have enough grit, guts and determination, anyone can really do it.’ It attracts good people, and it makes good people even better.”