WASHINGTON PARK — Ian Gonzalez is using his new shop, Last Lap Cornerstore, to share his love of running with others.
In the three weeks since the store’s grand opening at 332 E. 51st St. in Boxville, the community response has been overwhelming, said Gonzalez, an Auburn Gresham native. The store is the South Side’s first Black-owned running shop.
“People have been coming from all over the city to check out the store, and sales have been pretty consistent,” Gonzalez said. “It’s been great to give back to a community that’s given me so much, and one that’s been ignored.”
Gonzalez never set out to become a business owner; it was circumstance.
The “impulsive” father of toddlers and teens said he was marathon training while working for DoorDash when, after a conversation with a friend, he got the idea to open a store to serve the South Side running community.
“It’s the first rule of capitalism: You see a need, and you fill that need,” said Gonzalez, who previously worked at a Nike store in Bucktown.
“I couldn’t find a running store on the South Side. I had to go Downtown to Dick’s Sporting Goods to get stuff, but the level of customer service was … they couldn’t advise you on things like nutrition or gear.”
Gonzalez is drawing on that experience at Nike — where he fell into a group of “running evangelists” — to bring his passion and knowledge to Last Lap Cornerstore.
Running communities like Gumbo Fit, where Gonzalez is a team leader, also helped to shape his vision of what he wanted his store to be. Even the store’s name is a nod to one of the mainstays of the urban community: the corner store.
“I was afraid that it would take away from the running aspect of it, but it works. Growing up on the South Side, growing up in Black communities, there’s always a corner store,” Gonzalez said. “And it’s always geared towards that particular community, what they like, what they want.”
In keeping with that spirit, the Chicago Vocational School alumnus aims to make his store as accessible as possible. If a customer sends a direct message requesting a particular brand, he’ll do what he can to get it on the shelf.
Gonzalez hopes to expand his offerings — he’s currently selling gear, nutritional bars and supplements, and other equipment — to include running shoes.
“This journey has been a journey of affirmation for me,” Gonzalez said. “The things that I didn’t know about myself growing up, the things that I lost through different failures in life — like that childlike confidence you had kinda gets chipped away. Doing this is filling up my cup. It’s telling me that I can talk through ideas, figure things out.
“These four walls have affirmed me, but it’s really been the community that’s put the battery in my back.”
Last Lap Cornerstore is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday.
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