Making a beer run

Shoes and Brews in Longmont brings running and craft beer together

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Photos by Grace Boyle

Cheers and clapping come from the road as two eager runners take off in a sprint in the 800-meter road challenge for Shoes and Brews in Longmont. As the two runners loop back and head to the finish line, with Longs Peak looming behind them, owners, bystanders and shoe shoppers are whistling and counting down their time, urging them to the finish line.

They cross the line panting, leaning down with their hands on their knees to catch their breath, but their smiles are wide.

These folks just landed two of the top 20 spots on the board in the Brews side of the business, and their time of just over 3 minutes and 3 seconds denotes the cost of their beer that night: $3.03. As long as their name remains on the board, that’ll be the cost of their first beer upon subsequent visits.

Six passionate owners opened Shoes and Brews a year ago: Colin and Roger Anderson, a father son duo; Ashlee Velez, Colin’s fiancé; Dave Zakavec, and Kris and Mike Donohoe. Colin, Ashlee and Dave (also a brewer) all ran college track and cross-country together at Colorado State, and the Donohoe’s son, Dylan, ran with Colin back in high school. Dylan is also an employee on the retail side of the business. Mike, a longtime builder, was the contractor for the 3,750-square-foot dual space, while Roger Anderson is a longtime home brewer who heads up their brewing operation.

An Anderson cousin and Colin’s two younger brothers are both actively involved, as is his mom, making it very much a family affair. Ashlee shares, “Even if you aren’t family, we all treat each other that way.”

Since Longmont doesn’t have a specialty running store, Colin (who came up with the idea) wanted to contribute to the evolution of Longmont’s burgeoning downtown. As he sees it, Longmont “has a lot of potential,” and it was important for him because he grew up there, “to be part of that growth.” He believes that cool concepts like Shoes and Brews don’t just have to be something you only find in Boulder.

The group describes initial challenges in finding property owners that wouldn’t rent them space and banks that wouldn’t issue loans. With a brand new concept that doesn’t exist relatively anywhere else in the United States, and the lack of data on their potential success, they were turned down multiple times, but the group kept on pushing.

Although their location doesn’t get foot traffic in the more industrial location they landed at, it wasn’t by accident that they’re right on a running trail, the St. Vrain Greenway.

Roger Anderson says there was “a lot of sweat equity” in getting the place up and running. He describes the early days as, “All of us were there seven days a week and contributed to everything from washing the ceilings, to digging the trenches by hand in back.”

The Shoes 

The retail side of the shoe shop focuses on carefully selected and diverse shoe, apparel and running gear. Ashlee, who is the main buyer for retail, says everyone working at the store are “serious runners.” Visitors get personal attention and specific guidance, whether they are just looking to start running for the first time, or a serious runner on their 15th marathon.

They also pride themselves on holding brands that many other stores in the U.S. haven’t even seen yet. For instance, Run Gum is a U.S. company, and Shoes and Brews is one of the first retailers to carry them. They focus on a lot of Colorado specific running brands whenever possible.

The Brews 

On the beer side of the house they have 20 unique Colorado beers lined up on a chalkboard menu, including smaller, lesser-known breweries like Dads & Dudes out of Aurora, City Star out of Berthoud and Wild Cider out of Firestone. Although small isn’t the entire focus, Roger says after New Brew Fest in Niwot last year, he was inspired to give back to those local, smaller brewers by showcasing their new beer, fresh on the market.

They’re constantly rotating beers; when one tap is finished, they have another Colorado beer queued up. And with their one-barrel system that has three different fermenters, Roger Anderson has brewed a variety of beers already in-house, and he has already loftily focused on seasonal beers. Some of the beer names are funny; others are focused on running themes like the “Orange You Glad Triple,” “Heff Ya Hefeweizen,” the “All Comers Pale Ale” (a track meet term, meaning anyone can run in the meet) and the “Negative Split IPA” (the second half of your run is faster than the first), to name a few.

Inside the brewery, the tables are hand-crafted by a local woodworker, “Wood 2 Wood,” just down the road from them. And owner Michael Donohoe, of Donohoe Builders, built the beautiful long bar out of Colorado fir.

Although the focus is on beer, they’ve brought in some local pre-prepared food for people to snack on. They have Rocky Mountain Pizza (out of Denver) that they’ll bake in-house, a baker from Erie brings them fluffy pretzels and baked goods and occasionally food trucks will come by on specific evenings or when they host events.

Ashlee says she is surprised at the surge in the brewery’s popularity. They’ve found a diverse market: those who are interested in a great brewery and bar and have no idea about running, longtime runners and even some people who started running after coming to the bar. They believe they’ve built a place that’s welcoming to everyone, no matter your running preference.

The Community 

Perhaps the most notable difference about this fun two-sided concept is their focus on community.

Every Thursday they host their “Fun Runs” where up to 60 runners and walkers gather for a run and end up back at the store for beers and socializing. The owners urge anyone to attend; you can walk a mile or run six miles. It’s flexible and just meant to be a good way to get outside and meet other people.

They also hosted two races last year, the “Sole Mates 5K” in the fall and the “CollaBEERation 5K” in the spring in coordination with Left Hand Brewery, their neighbor just down the road. Their first race was capped and sold out at 300 participants, and their second spring race capped at 400. They hope to do their next fall event on Nov. 7. The winners bring home a keg of beer from Left Hand and the race finishes at Shoes and Brews for a beer fest to enjoy and unwind after the run.

The 800-meter road challenge is a great way to bring people in, show a little competitive spirit and get people’s names on the board. They describe stories of people showing up from out of town to try it, and someone driving in from Denver just for the run. As long as it’s not busy, they’ll host anyone outside on the frontage road next to the Greenway. Even if you don’t make it in the top 20, they post everyone’s times online, so you can see how many have participated.

Currently in the top spot for men is Billy Nelson, who ran as part of the U.S. Olympic team in the 2008 Beijing games. He ran to help them open, and his time came in at 1:57. Keeping it in the family, Colin and his two other brothers grace the board with their speedy times as well.

Although some might balk at the thought of combining beer and running, it’s about joining two passionate pastimes together and making them both shine.