Run for $: Shoos, Ragged Mountain face off

For 23 years, Ragged Mountain Running Shop has been a mecca for local runners. Its less-than-obvious second floor location tucked away on Elliewood Avenue has not deterred throngs of loyal pavement-pounders. But with the August opening of Shoos on Elliewood, area runners got one more shoe-shopping option– mere strides away from Ragged Mountain. Might the competition threaten Ragged Mountain's hold?

"We don't get cocky," says Ragged Mountain owner Mark Lorenzoni, "but we're a specialty business; this is all we do." That, he says, is what will keep his customers coming back.

"People come in with exercise-related problems, injuries," he says. "Everyone who comes into this store is looking for something functionally correct, not fashion."

As for Shoos, Lorenzoni says he's happy to have a new neighbor– particularly for the dress shoe option. "There's been a need on the Corner for a dress shoe store for a long time," he says.

Shoos owner Jim Norwood says he's not worried about direct competition either– especially since two-thirds of the new three-floor store is dedicated to Birkenstocks and to a full complement of moderately priced women's dress shoes.

"Ragged Mountain is a running store; they've built a loyal following in this market, and they surround the sport of running," says Norwood, who also owns New Balance of Charlottesville on the corner of Rio Road and Route 29. "We are based around the sport of comfort and fit."

Norwood cites the fact that each of his nine Virginia stores offers certified pedorthists, foot specialists who are trained in the mechanics of the foot, the ankle, and how they interact with the shoe.

Norwood says it's the custom sizes– from 0 to 20 with widths from AAA to 6E– that make New Balance an appealing brand.

And while various stores around town carry the brand, "We carry the widest selection of Birkenstock and New Balance in the state of Virginia," says Norwood, explaining that he opened the store to tap into the University and UVA Hospital market, which he believed was underserved.

Response to the new three-level store has been "very, very satisfactory," says Norwood, who plans to open three new stores across Virginia over the next year.

But if 25-mile-a-week runner Kerry Hendrix is any example, Shoos success will not spell Ragged Mountain's doom.

"I love it," she says of Ragged Mountain. "It's convenient, they're courteous and knowledgeable. I've basically been shopping there for probably 12 years."

Kerry says the Lorenzonis' dedication to the local running scene inspires his following. Mark's wife, Cynthia, is the director of the Women's Four-Miler, and the couple sponsors a slew of other races and running events throughout the year.

"I just feel this alliance to them because of their support," says Hendrix. "And they know what they're talking about in terms of shoes."

Is competition running high on Elliewood Avenue?