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Jay Friend, right, talks with Vicky Mix, who's worked at Runner's Edge for 11 years, while enjoying a free piece of cake on Wednesday as the Missoula business celebrates taking first place in the "Best Running Stores in America 2019" competition. 

Customers at Runner’s Edge carbed up on cake and ice cream Wednesday while employees helped them find the ideal shoe in celebration of the store taking first place in the “Best Running Stores in America 2019.”  

The store, which has charted several times before in the competition, placed ahead of more than 15,000 nominations. Other top contenders included companies with several locations operating in Baltimore and around Maryland.

“There’s amazing companies that have multiple stores. With our one store, we’re able to focus on Missoula and what role we play here and in western Montana,” said Anders Brooker, who opened Runner’s Edge in 2001.

Since the store’s opening, it has been both a place to buy running gear and a fixture in Missoula’s running community. Brooker and his staff, which includes his wife Meg and father Tim, host their own competitions and partner with local organizations like Run Wild Missoula to keep locals running throughout the year.

“The day we opened, we were at one of the local races trying to help out in whatever way we could. Whether it’s Run Wild Missoula, or the Missoula Marathon, a big part of what we do is being part of the city’s growing number of runners,” said Brooker.

In order to be considered for the award, the customers of Runner’s Edge needed to nominate the store. The organization, which has ranked the top 50 running stores in the U.S. since 2008, then sent secret shoppers to see the upkeep of the store and how well the employees catered to them. With nearly all of their products available online, Brooker said creating the ideal experience for their costumers has been paramount to the store’s success.

“In the old days, it was just about finding the right kind of shoe for a customer. Today, it’s about making sure their experience is a positive experience, whatever that is,” he said.

Part of that experience is helping shoppers determine their “Run Signature.” The process involves a jog on the store’s treadmill and measurements taken to determine the best fit, be it for trail runs or walking the dog.

“The big misconception is that you have to be a runner to shop here,” said store manager Vicky Mix, who has worked at Runner’s Edge for more than 11 years.

“We do have our regulars, but it’s always amazing to work with that first costumer and see them come back a second time and say thanks for either inspiring them to run a 5k, or take a walk with their kids,” she said.

Jay Friend, 30, has been a customer of Runner’s Edge for more than five years, and comes by the store at least once a month.

“I’ve been coming here since before I moved to Missoula. Everyone remembers me, and it’s way more inclusive than almost any other store that I go to,” he said.

In order to maintain that inclusion with locals, Brooker plans on keeping just the single location on Higgins.

“A big part of this award is input from the customers, and so we’re truly grateful to them,” said Brooker.

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