Carbondale running store wins $50K face-lift

Independence Run & Hike owner Brion After fits Emily Steers for a new pair of running shoes.
Colleen O’Neil/Post Independent |

It’s not every 4-year-old that gets a $50,000 makeover.

But Brion After entered his Carbondale business, Independence Run & Hike, into the running-industry-sponsored Great Store Makeover contest during a “moment of inspiration.” Independence moved to its current location at the La Fontana Plaza in May 2011 after opening in August 2006 across from the Cowen Center, offering shoes, clothes, nutrition and accessories for hiking and all types of running.

“In business you have to know your strengths and weaknesses,” After said. While he’s good with people and numbers and business in general, he doesn’t consider himself strong on the creative side, so the chance to have Boulder’s 3 Dots Design improve the appearance of the store and presentation of merchandise is exciting.

And maybe a little nerve-racking, too.

“I like walking into a store that reflects me,” After said, and he doesn’t want to end up with anything too flashy. For example, After said he’s not a modern guy and for living space prefers a cabin to a loft. He also said the store is functional as it is, so he’s a little afraid of messing with success.

But what After sees as Independence’s biggest strength will not be changed by the makeover. He touts the store’s gait analysis and shoe-fitting process along with staff who know about running injuries and who are interested in making people healthier. He also said, “It’s one of the best stores in the country to equip ultrarunners.”

Obviously he hopes that business will be improved in some way with the new look, even if it’s just that customers enjoy the shopping experience more. It also could pique manufacturers’ interest in selling their products at his store.

Some of the remodel work will go to locals, one of whom has a long relationship with the store. Glenwood’s Peter Heitzman is a longtime participant in Independence running groups, After said, and he did a lot of the original remodel work at the La Fontana location. Maybe he can consider that first effort a dry run.

After opened Independence following several years working in the sporting goods and outdoor equipment markets. He was working for Adidas in the 2000s before transferring to golf manufacturer Taylor Made, which should have been the dream job for a guy who was an All-American golfer in college. But he worked in a stuffy office and pretty much hated it, he said. So he came to Colorado and slept on his brother’s couch in Aspen before landing a job managing the Ute Mountaineer, where he stayed for 4½ years.

After said he had heard that if you don’t want your boss’s job, you’re in the wrong job. At the Ute he wanted not only his boss’s job but the owner’s job as well. He also wanted to move to Carbondale, which had no outdoor store. He’d been thinking about opening a running store, so Independence became both.

And the store is filling a niche. After said, “My store is an island,” meaning there are few running stores outside of Denver, and to the west you’d have to go all the way to Provo, Utah, to find the next store that specializes in running gear. With that in mind, After is considering opening a store in Grand Junction.

In Carbondale, the store and staff are involved in several community events. They sponsor Thursday night beer runs from the store to Carbondale Beer Works and longer group runs on Saturdays; organize the Sopris Runoff and the Jingle Bell Run; and host events, such as Ladies Night on May 7, featuring talks from ultra runners Jenny and Scott Jurek, and a heart rate and nutrition clinic on May 14.

All of which help make Carbondale what it is, and that Carbondale vibe probably contributed to Independence winning the contest. “Part of the reason we got this is because Carbondale is an up-and-coming town,” After said. “It’s a feather in our cap that this valley is getting this done. People are inspired by the area. I feel pretty lucky.”

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