By Sinead Mulhern
An airy new space in Montreal’s Mile End is a magnet for those with a knack for distance running. The chic neighbourhood located a short jaunt away from the city’s iconic Mount Royal has, for a long time, been a haven for creative types but in recent years, it has also become a hot spot for fitness enthusiasts and a home base for the growing number of Montreal run crews. Running has become more in-vogue in recent years and Emily Autran wasn’t ignorant to the rising number of Mile End folk logging miles when she dreamed of a new space– part hangout, part running store– for people in the neighbourhood. The Lululemon store manager pitched the idea and early last month, the fitness brand’s first-ever running-exclusive shop, Le Local, opened its doors.
Every detail was considered when the Lululemon team created this space. When the sun shines on the Mile End, they pop open the floor-to-ceiling wall of windows and the shop becomes transformed so that those shopping there hardly feel that they’re indoors at all. Scrolled in cursive, letters on the front door reads “Le Local.” They were painted on by a local artist. Step inside and a runner will find women’s wear to the left and a section of men’s apparel to the right, behind a bicycle assembled by a bike garage down the street.
Browsing through the collection of technical running apparel, runners are bound to notice the little knick-knacks that give the store its Mile End flavour. Potted cacti sit above rows of high-support bras, wooden board games take up residence on a communal table next to a wildflower bouquet, portraits of the brand’s Montreal ambassadors decorate the walls. They’ve even managed to sneak in some appropriate coffee table reading: Michel Hellman’s graphic novel Mile End sits on the table’s edge.
Those are the details. Upon first impression though, a few things make it clear that Le Local isn’t your run-of-the-mill running gear store but rather a hub for runners to re-group. The wood slab with benches is intended to accommodate several. Games of Jenga and chess indicate, it’s OK to stay for a while. Beside this, a screen rolls down to showcase running-themed documentaries or big-deal races.
Sitting here on an early-summer day, the shop is bright and sunny. That was planned. According to Autran, the brand wanted a space located in the right spot to soak up the afternoon rays. At the back of the store is a water cooler and rows of cube-shaped lockers. There’s even a contraption to measure feet for custom-created kicks by Math Sport (designed by a Quebec City runner). Oh, and perhaps the most important detail: Le Local has positioned itself just metres away from city staple St. Viateur Bagels – good to know they had a runner’s favourite snack in mind.
Le Local first opened in early May. On the last day of the month, they throw their official launch party. That’s a sort of test. Have runners taken note of Le Local on their neighbourhood shakeouts? Is this the sort of thing runners want in this corner of Montreal? Early in the evening, Autran, brand ambassadors and the other Lululemon brains behind their first running store get to all find out.
It turns out, this group can pack a party. By 7:30 p.m., Le Local is full. Mingling in the crowd are trail runners capable of booking it up the steps of Mount Royal, local crew members, dabblers of the sport, local media; even a multi-time Olympic medalist. A pub on the corner has catered plates of food and off to the side, a bar tender swiftly fills cups with summer cocktails made with Romeo’s Gin– one of the city’s many bragging points. Le Local is new, but runners have flocked. By 9:00 p.m., it’s clear that this spot has been welcomed with open arms.
In the mid-2000s, trackies and marathoners alike were used to lacing frumpy sneaks and throwing on gear that was anything but trendy. Running was in desperate need of a makeover. It has since got one. The explosion of running crews, newbie runners embracing the sport, expert race directing and savvy sports brands who get the whole running craze have all changed the sport significantly. It continues to grow. Spots like Le Local aim to give the community a place not just to outfit themselves for training but also just to gather, nerd out about running and exchange route tips. For this brand, a running-only spot like this is the first of its kind. Is this new type of running store here to stay? We’ll wait and see.