"Because a Logo is Not Enough" Critical Shopper, New York Times, April 12, 2007

you can read the article with its nice photos .


42 West 14th Street;

VIBE A sports authority without the stadium rage, welcoming all levels of fitness.

SERVICE No product pushing. Knowledgeable staff members are not secret mouthpieces for the Man, and they stick to the store philosophy: buy what you need.

FOCUS Personalized shoe consultations. (It gets crazy on the weekends; go on a weekday morning or after lunch to beat the crowd.)

THE EXTRA MILE The store offers programs and classes, including a spring triathlon training program starting in mid-May. For information and registration, go to jackrabbitsports.com.

IT takes a lot for me to walk into an athletics store because I suffer from severe P.E. Class Syndrome, or PECS. No matter how much I may exercise now, I have dark and partly repressed memories of being beaned with dodge balls or standing in different fields praying the ball would never come, wondering what in God’s name everyone was screaming about.

Many of today’s sports-gear stores don’t help. The prevailing aesthetic of warped American can-doism — “Just do it! Nothing is impossible! Win or die! Grrr!” — totally freaks me out.

Trying to find something to wear is not easy, either. Athletic companies are constantly unveiling whiz-bang gimcrackery constructed in nanotechnological polymers in dizzying stripes and colors. Moreover, the basic warm-up (tricked out with fur, rhinestones and attitude) has become the uniform of the modern-day boulevard trollop. One false move and I could look like Kimora Lee Simmons if she became a member of the Fantastic Four.

JackRabbit, the insistently back-to-basics and refreshingly steroid-free multisports store, is trying to strip away the layers of hype, Myoplex and filigree that weigh down the zillion-dollar-a-year industry. The store concentrates on providing functional clothes and equipment but still knows that its patrons want to look kind of cool. Being in a fashion capital, I guess you could say it is one of the first sports outfitters to “edit.”

The brightly lighted store is divided between women’s and men’s clothing, along with quadrants for basic fitness, yoga, triathlon, running, swimming, biking and a comprehensive shoe section in the rear. I went there last week for new swimming goggles and a suit, since my old cheap ones were leaking and disintegrating respectively.

At the wall of goggles, a salesman named Patrick Lago approached me in a nonconfrontational, almost sleepy way that put me at ease. Together we narrowed down the choices, then used the goggle testers to see which fit my face. (Alcohol wipes are available to prevent a pinkeye plague in the lap-swimmer community.) I settled on the Mako by Aqua Sphere ($15), a dependable brand with a soft silicone “skirt” around the eye so you don’t look like an aged owl when you get out of the water.

The men’s suits, hanging on a small island rack, cover the waterfront with skimpy Speedos (I don’t think so), square-cut boxers and the above-the-knee Durafast Jammer ($33.95), which, with a wool tank top, could have been worn in Coney Island around 1900. Mr. Lago, also an avid swimmer, preferred these. When I asked why, I expected some cocky insider speech, but he shrugged and said, “I just like them.” I went with black Speedo Endurance square-leg trunks ($39).

Mr. Lago’s zero-pitch assistance is intentional. Lee Silverman, the owner of the store, wants the staff to be honest and nonaggressive. Also a sufferer of PECS, Mr. Silverman used to be in computer technology and at one point weighed 210 pounds. But then he started working out, eventually participating in triathlons. He decided to apply his tech-geek focus to athletics and in 2003 opened a JackRabbit in Park Slope, Brooklyn, to serve the bikers and runners of Prospect Park. The 14th Street store opened in January 2006 with the same idealistic Park Slopey goal of creating a welcoming environment for skilled as well as latent athletes.

It was unsurprising to learn from Mr. Silverman that vendors commonly pay the staff of athletic stores to push their products on customers (sometimes known as the Sales Person Incentive Fund, or SPIF). Instead, he pays for his own advertising, eschews prominent logo displays and refuses to buy an entire line from a vendor just to receive a discount. “We’ve made it a little harder on ourselves,” he said, “but then again, people trust us.”

No one is more of a truth-teller than the store manager, Christopher Bergland, a triple Ironman champion and the author of “The Athlete’s Way: Sweat and the Biology of Bliss” (St. Martin’s Press, June 2007). Spending time with Mr. Bergland made me feel like the Karate Kid, gaining wisdom from a master in a quick seven-minute montage scene. Among other things, I found out that there is no such thing as a perfect cross-training shoe (you are better off buying a running shoe with a “low profile”); that the classic “splice” running shorts are going out of style; and that Supplex, an unshiny cottony-feel synthetic, is the Lycra of the 21st century.

Mr. Bergland examined my instep and determined that I overpronate (roll my feet inward) and that I have V-shape feet: narrow at the ankle, wider at the forefoot. I went on the treadmill for video analysis. A camera installed at foot level captured my gait, frame by frame, as I jogged, so the staff could gauge my midstance — when all the weight is on one foot — and determine how much support I needed. Mr. Bergland suggested the Saucony Omni shoe ($100), which is designed for V-shaped feet. I bought a pair with a more stable inside arch to compensate for my pronating tendencies.

I was inspired to replace my running wardrobe, too, and bought a pair of Asics Metrocircuit shorts ($36), which are baggy and long, almost like basketball shorts. This, Mr. Bergland said, is the trend: “For men, the hemline on running shorts keeps going down.” I also got a Craft Trail vented tee ($45). After trying on Sugoi MidZero running tights, which made me look like a mime, I went for Adidas Astro Pants ($60). They’re stretchy but unrevealing and have pegged, zippered ankles so you don’t rub up against yourself when you huff and puff.

I’m not sure how much I’ll wear, though. No matter now selective JackRabbit may be, athletic wear still bums me out with all its stripes and blocky colors. Why do I have to look like a Nascar vehicle to work out?

Regardless, the store provided a moment of healing for my PECS. JackRabbit’s message is what our P.E. teachers should have told us from the very beginning: being athletic doesn’t mean you have to be an overcompetitive jerk. I wish I had come here for gym class.

« Previous: "Save a Face, Save the World," Critical Shopper March 15th 2007 New York Times

Next: "This Is Not My Beautiful House! This Is Not My Beautiful Life!" printed in New York Magazine April 16th 2007 »

Back to Index