Fires have been raging in Northern California’s wine country since yesterday, with forced evacuations throughout the region. As many as five separate fires, stretching over five counties, have impacted business at athletic specialty stores in the area, who are reporting a dip in traffic.
“[People] are preoccupied — it’s scary, creepy and reminds you of the last time we were all scared,” said Leslie Parker, referring to other devastating fires that took place in the area in recent years. “Smoke has filled on both sides of the valley and we’re getting [safety] alerts all the time.”
According to Parker, “People are paying attention, watching the news and not thinking, ‘Let’s buy a pair of shoes.’ Looking over the east hills, it’s upsetting to everybody.”
At Athletic Feat, also in Napa, owner Dame Rahal agreed that buying shoes is not top of mind for most people at the moment. Traffic has been off, she said, due to the ensuing fires and accompanying heat wave.
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Rahal noted that while Athletic Feat has not been in the fire zone, one of the store’s team members, who resides in Napa County, was evacuated from their home.
For Skip Brand, owner of Healdsburg Running Company in Healdsburg, Calif., said that while the store is tucked between two fires, it so far is not facing any imminent danger. “Everywhere up to our town, people have been evacuated,” he said.
Brand noted that his store is open for business — and even reported a good sales day yesterday due to consumers shopping the area’s farmer’s market — but his focus has instead been on supporting fire victims and firefighters.
Working with vendors, Brand is donating shoes used as demos or borrowed for runs to those impacted by the fires. In addition, he’s been delivering energy bars and drinks to firefighters, items that also were donated by vendors and were originally intended for distribution at an April charity run that was cancelled due to the pandemic. Brand is also distributing insoles by Currex to firefighters, a cost that‘s been shared by the retailer and supplier.
”It’s about charity and community building,” said Brand. “We don’t try to sell people, but if they buy it’s indirectly good.”