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VOL. 127 | NO. 157 | Monday, August 13, 2012

Breakaway Finds Success Going the Extra Mile


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Breakaway Running is a small business with the steady, even stride it takes to endure for more than three decades.

Mary Jones of Breakaway Running helps Dana Young Alvarez, left, pick out running shoes to train for a half-marathon.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Begun in 1981 by a handful of area running enthusiasts as an outlet to get their own gear and to accommodate the legions of Memphis runners, the shop has come full circle, having recently been bought by Barry Roberson, the shop’s first manager.

“The whole reason the store was open, those guys felt there were a few needs not being met and they loved running and I love running,” said Roberson, who has spent the past 19 years in real estate before delving back into the business of running. “We’re probably more runners, and always have been, than business people.”

Business minded or not, the store has prospered and grown over the years, moving locations in 2008 from a large house at Union Avenue and Belevedere Boulevard, where Roberson lived on the second floor in the beginning, to another Union location down the street. Further east, they’ve been at various locations with the current home being on Germantown Road.

“The trails are the reason we moved out there in Germantown,” Roberson said, referring to the nearby trailhead for the Wolf River Greenway and off-road trails. “That’s just proven to be great.”

Through changes in location and ownership throughout the years, the one constant, and a secret to Breakaway’s success, has been the community of runners it services.

“It serves as a focus for the running community to showcase and advertise local races and be involved as a sponsor for local races, and just kind of be the glue to help hold the running community together,” said Mike Cody, attorney with Burch Porter & Johnson PLLC, local running phenom and one of the founders of Breakaway along with friends Jack Rockett and Bill Craddock.

In addition to selling running shoes and apparel, and accessories such as training watches and water bottles, Breakaway is also a supporter of many of the local races and volunteers can be found manning water stations along the routes. To get in shape for such races, they host training runs from various locations around town.

“One of the reasons we’ve been able to make it is that we do a lot of things outside of just the hours we’re open,” Roberson says.

There are group runs – from beginner groups to marathon and half-marathon training – starting from Bardog Tavern Downtown, the track at University of Memphis and from both store locations. Their Thursday “Tour de Midtown” runs typically see 50-70 runners.

With the prevalence of online stores and big boxes such as Sports Authority and Dick’s Sporting Goods, Roberson said Breakaway’s strength lies in the knowledge and the passion for running of his employees.

“We are specialty running,” he said. “All my guys here are very serious runners in that they love it, they do it, we eat it, breathe it, sleep it. More than just trying to sell something to somebody, we are matchmakers, we try to help people get what they need. We probably spend half our time talking to people about their training, their injuries, things like that.”

Cody likened the brick-and-mortar Breakaway to a coffee shop or bookstore. “I think the importance of the store is that it’s a physical place where runners – beginners or professionals – can go to look at shoes and merchandise and talk to people that actually know about the products and can help them get into the right stuff.”

Running is a sport that endures through any economy, being a relatively inexpensive hobby to begin and maintain. Though his staff runs marathons, ultra-marathons and triathlons, Roberson said, “we specialize in beginners.”

Roberson finds great irony in the long-running success of Breakaway and the many people they’ve helped over the years, and the recent spate of national press denoting Memphis as an unfit city, an overweight city, a pedestrian-unfriendly city.

Though he can cite evidence to the contrary, he will admit there is room for improvement and that lies in inducing kids – especially kids from low-income backgrounds – to become active in the sport. To that end, Roberson is working on a plan to work with coaches to begin track programs for such kids with many runner friends and customers already volunteering to mentor.

Breakaway has been going strong for 31 years and Roberson shows no sign of slowing down.

“Many years ago when we first opened we took on the philosophy that ‘if we took care of running, the running would take care of us,’” Roberson said, “and that has been what’s happened.”

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