COVID-19 has had a huge impact on small businesses across the nation and in our backyard. One of the businesses in Ithaca that was forced to temporarily close was the Finger Lakes Running Company (FLRC), the only dedicated running store in Tompkins County. To help the store get back on its feet, the Finger Lakes Runners Club, a community of runners in the Ithaca area, held the Virtual COVID-19 Mile Fund Run to raise funds for the business.
It was a massive success well beyond what the organizers had expected, raising $15,335 from over 500 participants with 100% of the proceeds going to the Finger Lakes Running Company. The fundraiser helped Ian Golden, the owner of the company, to successfully reopen about two weeks ago after being shut down before the end of March. Golden was very appreciative of the community’s efforts.
“It’s huge,” he said. “At some level, a lot of people have supported us to get us through nearly 15 years to begin with. So, that’s a testament. But you don’t really see until push comes to shove that it really means something personally to a lot of individuals beyond just buying whatever when they need it.”
Pete Kresock, the runners club’s race director, drew inspiration from similar events in Rochester that helped prevent its local running stores from shutting down. He discussed the importance of the store and why he implemented a similar plan in Ithaca.
“[FLRC] is very important because it’s the only store of its nature anywhere in Tompkins County,” Kresock said. “The store also sponsors a lot of local races in conjunction with the Finger Lakes Runners Club. They’re involved with donating to youth groups or getting free and discounted gear to individuals or groups that might not be able to afford it too easily.”
At first, Kresock considered the fundraiser by himself, but he then went to the Finger Lakes Runners Club, where he serves on the board of directors, and presented the idea to them. Their resources helped make the idea a reality, leading to an outcome that defied expectations.
“It was a lot bigger than I was expecting,” Kresock said. “I thought maybe 200 people signing up and raising a couple thousand dollars from 200 registrants would be a pretty big success. With the marketing ability of the runners club and Ian’s involvement with the community and all the people that know him and want to support him, I got a lot more people on board than I had hoped for.”
An event like this proves how tight-knit the running community is in Tompkins County. Golden discussed the support he received before and during the shutdown to help keep the store afloat for over two months with the fundraiser taking place from April 27 to May 3.
“It was really awesome,” Golden said. “The last day we were open to customers, I think March 22, we had a really big day of community support as well. So, the two of those back to back, really, were amazing. Those two things paired with the Small Business Association for our economic disaster loan, we’re O.K. Now, it’s just on us to try to do what we can to treat that as an investment in us and make sure we’re circulating it back to the community.”
After the success of the virtual run, in which most of the funds were raised via optional donations at the time of registration, the runners club is excited to get back to holding in-person events. They have already canceled all events through August, but there’s a chance for a return before the end of the year.
“I’ll be very excited [for our first race back],” Kresock said. “One of the reasons is that the club does a trail race in early October, and I’m the race director for that. It’s possible that would be the first one back after six months with no races.”
Golden handled a hectic schedule during the shutdown, as his wife is a healthcare worker and he has three kids at home. In addition to his responsibilities at home, Golden was still performing deliveries from online and email orders for the Fingers Lake Running Company.
“It never really stopped,” Golden said. “I think we were maybe 30% down in that two-month period, which was tough. We’re already kind of on a shoestring as a business. We have been for years. But I was really grateful to be 30% down because I know that probably a lot of businesses had it much, much, much worse than that.”
Business has picked back up for the Finger Lakes Running Company since reopening, and what helped is how running is a sport that has been able to continue throughout the pandemic. Running in groups, though, will have to wait to make its return, and the Finger Lakes Runners Club is anxious to get back to physical races rather than virtual.
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