With a focus on Lively Athletics this month, OPEDC pilots its new monthly feature column, Open for Business. Open for Business will profile an Oak Park small business each month to bring you the inside story on the business owners in your community.
On a recent visit to Lively Athletics at 109 N. Oak Park Avenue, I was drawn to the bright children’s obstacle course situated near the children’s shoes. Kids can try on shoes here and skip a hopscotch, do “long jumps” on a mat with colored lines, and hop around on bright, plastic 3-D shapes. Lively co-owner Anne Pezalla told me that she conceived of the obstacle course to help parents shop smarter. When choosing an athletic shoe for their child, they need to select one that serves the child well as they move. The obstacle course gives kids a chance to really test different shoes in the sorts of conditions (playground, for example) in which they’ll be using them.
Lively Athletics co-owners, sister duo Kate Pezalla Marlin and Anne Pezalla, grew up in Oak Park. When they decided to open an athletic store together focused on their shared obsessions—community and running—they never looked anywhere but Oak Park. Anne says, “We grew up here, we love it here, and we’re raising our kids here. The idea of opening anywhere but our hometown didn’t even occur to us.”
Oak Park has been a welcoming home for them. Anne explains that, as a new business, some advised them that they would likely lose money in their first year. Instead, they were in the black. She says, “Our customers care a great deal about shopping local and keeping the dollars they spend in their community.”
Anne says, “My favorite thing about doing business in Oak Park is the small town feel. I recognize half of our customers from somewhere—maybe my kid’s daycare, or the library, or because they’ve become regulars.”
I asked Anne what advice she has for someone who might be hoping to open a business in Oak Park. She said, “My top piece of advice is to tell your story. Oak Parkers want to do business with you, the business owner, not a faceless corporation.” She adds, “The best ways we’ve gotten customers in the door is to listen to what they want and give it to them. People want a local store that offers a great fitting process for kids’ shoes? No problem, we added that to our services.” Lively also delivers their products to customers’ homes within Oak Park.
Looking ahead to 2017, Anne says: “We’re really excited about teaming up with Coach Janice Enloe to offer a variety of training programs for local races out of the store. Parents have been complaining about how hard it is to buy soccer cleats for kids around town, so we’re starting a small used cleat department with our kids’ shoes. Finally, we keep inching towards becoming a tennis apparel and shoe store, so look for that soon!”
If you haven’t shopped at Lively Athletics yet, 2017 might be a great time to check them out. And if you already know about them, then, chances are, you have become a regular customer. For more information, check livelyathletics.com