Rackets & Runners still serving Vancouver after 41 years
A change of owners and the rise of online shopping hasn't put a stop to Rackets & Runners
Still Standing is a series about the small businesses in the Lower Mainland that have managed to stay open despite the challenges. Listen every second Tuesday on CBC Radio The Early Edition.
When Vanda Borean stepped into Rackets & Runners as a 14-year-old customer in 1980, she was in awe of the sheer number of running shoes on offer.
Borean was a latchkey kid who enjoyed her trips to the specialty store because of the interesting products on the shelves and the infectious enthusiasm of the staff. She knew she wanted to work at the store someday.
"It's a store that always offered exceptional service, a great experience, but also great products," she said.
Borean maintained her interest in fitness and running while studying psychology at the University of British Columbia. During her studies, she switched her focus to business because she wanted to apply her knowledge in a practical way.
After admiring the store as a customer and working 20 years at FedEx as a manager, Borean eventually achieved her dream of working at Rackets & Runners. She bought the store from one of the original owners, Lex Hoos, in 1998 after he decided to help athletic shoe company New Balance open its first retail stores in the city.
Rackets & Runners has served Vancouver's tennis and fitness enthusiasts on Oak Street for more than 40 years.
Sticking to service
Despite soaring land values and online shopping services like Amazon squeezing small independent retailers, Rackets & Runners has not only stayed afloat, but has managed to thrive.
Kevin Christensen knows this first-hand. Like Borean (his sister-in-law), Christensen was a customer before becoming a staff member at Rackets & Runners. Now, as general manager, he helps train the staff.
"I think why we've had success over the years is because we have great employees who really care about what they are doing," said Christensen. "We have lots of great athletes in the store who play the sports we carry, so they walk the walk and talk the talk."
The local tennis community is especially appreciative of Rackets & Runners.
Rik de Voest is a former professional tennis player and the tournament director of the Odlum Brown VanOpen, a local tennis tournament. He remembers a time when he had to go to Rackets & Runners for a specific piece of equipment.
"Lead tape is a special material that players use to add weight to the frame of their rackets," de Voest said. "Nobody even knows what that is except for a specialty store [like Rackets & Runners]."
The future is bright
It also doesn't hurt that 19-year-old tennis star Bianca Andreescu recently became the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam title.
Of course Rackets & Runners is not just for serious athletes. You will find people of all ages visiting the store and looking for shoes to run, jog or casually walk in. Borean says Lex Hoos, one of the original owners, drops by unannounced and is impressed that the store is still going strong.
"It's absolutely a beautiful time when he comes into the store, it's like a rock star coming in," said Borean. "Even though he sold the business 20 years ago, to see the business still standing, still thriving, it makes him very proud."
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