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TRAIL STOKE: Wild Jackalopes Redux

Denver’s Berkeley Park Running Company heads to a new retail trailhead.

At a festive barbecue marked by a cold summer rain shower and a hint of sadness, the best little running store in Denver closed its doors on Sunday evening, June 27, 2021.

After about four years operating out of a tiny, two-story house built in 1896, Berkeley Park Running Company celebrated one last time with several dozen trail runners by serving up cold drinks and cheeseburgers on the grill at 4568 Tennyson Street in Denver.

The store has been focused almost solely on trail and ultrarunning and the engaging community and authentic vibe that goes with it. It’s been a throwback to what running shops used to be — cool, connected and close to the sport — with a touch of modern sophistication, a smart range of product offerings and fun group runs and events.

Fortunately, like the suffering we’ve all experienced in a trail running race, this week’s melancholy vibe is only temporary.

While the property is slated for development and the house will sadly be torn down, the store will relocate to a new location about five miles to the southwest with a mid-September re-opening planned. The business is also changing hands to a new ownership group committed to the welcoming atmosphere founder Chris Sullivan and chief cohort Phil Snyder have fostered since the beginning.

“Most running stores don’t get the whole trail/ultra scene, which is a different animal, and hopefully it stays that way for a long time. That’s what we wanted to develop here, and I think that attracted a lot of people to the store and also got a lot of people into trail running because we started it.”

“When I first had the idea to start this, you could find trail gear here and there, but there was no real place with a trail vibe that brought the community together,” says the 51-year-old Sullivan. “Most running stores don’t get the whole trail/ultra scene, which is a different animal, and hopefully it stays that way for a long time. That’s what we wanted to develop here, and I think that attracted a lot of people to the store and also got a lot of people into trail running because we started it.”

The Wild Jackalopes.

Trail running has been booming for years, and 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 farther west.

To Sullivan’s point, while most running shops in the Denver area sell trail-running shoes, gear and accessories, most are focused on the bigger market of road running and general fitness. There are a lot of great shops, but none offer nearly as much trail-specific knowledge, experience and ambiance that Sullivan, Snyder and Kay Davidson have brought on a daily basis.

I don’t know how successful Berkeley Park Running Company has been from a financial point of view, but it certainly developed a passionate and diverse following — its loyal customers and fervent racing team members are 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.

Elite athletes Courtney Dauwalter, Dave Mackey, Darcy Piceu, Hilary Allen, Clare Gallagher, Jason Schlarb and Trail Sisters founder Gina Lucrezi are among the many who have spoken at the shop’s events.

“This isn’t the end, but it’s sad to leave this place,” says Snyder, who will remain with the store in its new location. “With so many people moving to Colorado and specifically to Denver, it’s been a real treat to introduce people to trail running and watch it change their lives.”

“With so many people moving to Colorado and specifically to Denver, it’s been a real treat to introduce people to trail running and watch it change their lives.”

He met Sullivan 15 years ago at a Nike Town run in Denver and credits him with getting him deeper into trail running by encouraging him to sign up for the grueling, 17-mile Imogene Pass Run in the San Juan Mountains near Telluride. They eventually both wound up on the Runner’s Roost retail store racing team, and then Snyder paced Sullivan in his first try at the Leadville 100 in 2011.

Since then, Sullivan has run the 90K Comrades Marathon in South Africa twice, while Snyder has run Leadville twice, plus dozens of other trail races around the West and the 105K Gran Trail Courmayeur in the Italian Alps.

“It was that night of pacing and crewing him at Leadville with my buddy, Ed Riegert, who was pacing another guy, when I said, ‘I guess we’re running this next year, right?’” the 52-year-old Snyder recalls. “That was at the Silver Dollar Saloon in Leadville. I guess we all make bad decisions there because we both signed up and ran it the next year.”

Snyder also credits Sullivan for encouraging him to get out of the bartending trade and take a job at Runner’s Roost 10 years ago. His passion for trail running — and engaging with people — was a perfect fit at the perfect time for the running retail business. When Sullivan was kicking around the idea of opening a new store in the Berkeley Park neighborhood on Denver’s northwest side, Snyder was the first person he called.

The new ownership group is determined to maintain the special atmosphere that Sullivan and Snyder have 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 Times 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 store near 26th and Kipling in Lakewood is a slightly larger space, which will allow the store 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. (Although the original shop has closed, it will continue hosting group runs from that area through July.) Sullivan, who has worked full time as a flight attendant since long before he opened the shop, will step away from his day-to-day role, but he says he’ll remain close to the store and be present at shop events. He’s worked countless unpaid hours to help make Berkeley Park Running Company a success, and he’s happy to hand the reins to the new group so he can channel more of his time in passion into hitting the trails and getting back in shape.

“You’re happy to put that time in and do all that stuff, because you love it and you’re happy with the response from the people and you have a good time,” Sullivan says. “For me, it was never about selling stuff. I’d rather have you not buy anything and have a good time and a good feeling when you leave instead of trying to push stuff on you. I’m not a sales dude, and to me, you should buy gear because it works for you and that’s what you want, not because I’m trying to make a nickel off it. I’ve always thought it’s all about the community and that it will all come around in the end.”

“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.”

Sullivan and Snyder both 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. Sunday’s barbecue was lively, but a little bittersweet, too.

“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,” Snyder says. “Last weekend one of our Wild Jackalopes won the Kokopelli 150, and we had another come in DFL at the San Juan Solstice, and I celebrate them both.

“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.”

 

Brian Metzler was the founding editor of Trail Runner and now serves as a contributing editor.