Outdoors

Bonk! Trail Running Shop Owner Passes Torch Before Building Demolition

The Berkeley Park Running Company building will be scraped for more mixed-use development.
The Berkeley Park Running Company building will be scraped for more mixed-use development. Kyle Harris
There are almost as few trail-running shops in the United States as there are historic buildings left on Tennyson Street in the Berkeley neighborhood. So even as one of the last historic homes on that stretch is slated to be demolished for more boxy mixed-use development — first-floor retail and a couple of floors of residential space — it's good news that the business inside, the Berkeley Park Running Company, will be moving to new digs in an old Lakewood strip mall at West 26th Avenue and Kipling Street.

The Best of Denver award-winning shop, which flight attendant and hobbyist ultra-runner Chris Sullivan founded in 2017, had a good run for nearly four years. Over that time, it's become a community hub for a laid-back crew of trail speedsters and ultra-racers who valued the store's staffers with their specialized knowledge, its good selection of gear, its community runs — and its beer taps. In the shop's first year, Trail Runner magazine named the store one of the best running shops in the country. Berkeley Park Running Company runners have won races nationwide, bringing outsized accolades to the undersized store.

Back in 2017, when Sullivan took over the circa 1896 house from an illustrator who spent his days locked up inside, drawing, smoking cigarettes and doing little in the way of repairs, the runner had his work cut out for him. For six months, he didn't just weed the yard — he was digging up trees and laying down tons of rock. He created the decor of the shop from old scrap wood salvaged from the neighborhood's demolished buildings, and turned the house into a cozy running store devoid of the generic slat walls that make pretty much every sports store in the country look the same: boring, and about as pleasant as eating a shoe.

While he spent most of his hours at the store working for free, Sullivan says the time was worthwhile because of the community he formed. The store's events helped bring people together.


But COVID-19 shut down those events for more than a year, and then a deal on the building forced him to close the store before the home was demolished around it. The plot will sit empty for the next year, as deals on the adjacent buildings are finalized.
click to enlarge Quaint Tennyson Street has been overrun with ugly construction. - KYLE HARRIS
Quaint Tennyson Street has been overrun with ugly construction.
Kyle Harris
"When all that stuff goes away in the name of progress, now all the little stores or whatever it may be are all gone. Unfortunately, that’s what Tennyson is becoming," laments Sullivan. "What used to be a quirky fun street with lots of stuff going on is slowly turning into more condos."

For Sullivan, the retail race is over. He says he's spent more time running the shop than actually running, and he's ready to get back to the sport. Though he's in the worst shape of his life, he's ready to lace up and begin jogging his way back to his favorite Colorado race, the Imogene Pass Run on September 11, and perhaps once again take on the Comrades Marathon — a 55-mile run in South Africa — for its hundredth edition this year. With good deals on flights from the airline he works for, he can travel the world cheaply, and he plans to race his way around the globe, as he used to.

In the meantime, he's handing the baton to four seasoned runners: Mike Hewitt, Ryan Kirchhoff, Corky Dean and Peter Downing, founder of the nonprofit Suffer Better, which gives endurance athletes opportunities to support local communities and protect nature.

"They're good guys, all trail runners and ultra runners," Sullivan says, "the kind of people that if you're going to pass the torch, they're the kind of people you want to do it."

Sullivan will help with the transition over the summer as the shop gears back up. It's a sponsor of the Hardrock 100, and plans to host brewery runs and other community gatherings as it prepares to relocate.

Some current staffers plan to make the move to the new location, promising continuity and the high level of friendly service that the Berkeley Park Running Company has been known for.

"It will keep the dream alive," says Sullivan. "The jackalope will live on."
click to enlarge Runners gather outside the Berkeley Park Running Company on Thursday, June 24, to say goodbye to the beloved building and to brace for — and race toward — the future. - BERKELEY PARK RUNNING COMPANY
Runners gather outside the Berkeley Park Running Company on Thursday, June 24, to say goodbye to the beloved building and to brace for — and race toward — the future.
Berkeley Park Running Company
The change in the neighborhood and the business coincides with a big shift in the sport of ultra-running, which has traditionally been a hobby for weirdos, hippies, punks and misfits allergic to the logo-laden major marathon series filled with high-strung, type-A perfectionists.

"Trail-ultra people tend to be a lot more laid-back," Sullivan says. "I’ve drunk beers with some of the best runners in the world. They don’t have any reason to hang out with me. They’re regular people. Not like road running, triathlons: 'Calm down, dude, relax, have a beer.'"
click to enlarge Chris Sullivan, founder of Berkeley Park Running Company. - CHRIS SULLIVAN
Chris Sullivan, founder of Berkeley Park Running Company.
Chris Sullivan
But that laid-back culture is shifting. Big corporations are buying out some of the smaller, local races, and Nike is in on the action. Ironman, a behemoth in the endurance sports world known for high prices and peddling endless swag, promises to "take trail running to the next level" — monopoly, anyone? — and has already taken over the Mozart 100 race and the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc.

While the sport's casual attitude may be endangered, Sullivan's not too worried about the future; after all, old-timers and newcomers alike find more pleasure in local races with more spunk than swag.

"Hopefully it retains the soul and a lot of local stuff," he says of the store. "I want them to have these little races still be viable so it doesn’t turn into corporate nonsense. Ca-ching ca-ching. The Ironman charges $700 to $800. People are mortgaging their house to do this race, or you're really wealthy."

With traditional trail running, the bar of entry is lower: "Put on some clothes, strap on sneakers and go," he advises.

Shops like the Berkeley Park Running Company are sure to preserve some of that community-driven sensibility, even as the small businesses themselves risk going extinct.

"You want your sport to grow. At the same time, you have to be afraid of it," says Sullivan. "It's like you want this neighborhood to be nice...but be careful what you wish for."

Follow the journey of the Berkeley Park Running Company and find out about its summer series of runs online.
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris