Located about 90 miles outside of Chicago sits a single-door run specialty shop that has been that the heart of the Rockford community for the past 35 years.
In 1989, now-owner Steve Jaycox took a part-time job at a local running store right out of college. This was supposed to be temporary, but 10 years later Steve and his wife Lisa found themselves as the newest owner of Runner’s Image.
“In 1990 the store changed hands and the second owner asked me to stay on a more permanent basis,” Jaycox said. “I took on the role of store manager which pretty much encompassed everything except the store finances. Shortly after, we moved the store location two doors west and spent a couple of months rehabbing the new location. For the first year and a half at this location I lived out of the stock room on a roll-away. Eventually I moved upstairs. In the late 90's my wife and I purchased the building and shortly thereafter the business.”
When the store originally opened in the early 80s, downtown Rockford was in serious decline, like many other urban centers at the time. And, according to Jaycox, the running community was much more hard-core back then.
“Running was a lifestyle choice for many of our customers,” Jaycox said. “Definitely male dominated. 10K's ruled. A good marathon time was around three hours if not under. Now the community is much more diverse, both in participants and also in their expectations. It's female dominated. 5K's rule and completion rather than time is more often the goal. Today it is more of a means to fitness for many, rather than a lifestyle and for many others races are a one and done experience, a sticker to be earned. Running has become the activity that brings people together so they can participate in some other social event.”
Despite the changing trends in retail shopping, Jaycox keeps his store focused on carefully selected product and customer service.
“Honestly, we're really not trying to stay ahead of the trends,” Jaycox said. “Our cash register is circa 1921 and has a hand crank. We have in our nearly thirty-five years become much better at discerning trends from trendy. We tend to be fairly conservative in picking what we carry preferring to offer product that has a bit of a track record.”
As a Great American Running Shop, Jaycox attributes their success to their independence.
“Perhaps cliche, but just as our country has been celebrating its independence for over 200 years as one of it's strongest attributes, so do we,” he said. “This freedom allows us to really know our customers not as a potential sale, but as a fellow human.”
“We are here to help, period,” he added. “We won't try to sell them something that you don't want or need. We won't BS you, and if we don't know, we'll say so. Then we'll try to find out.”