Kate Pezalla-Marlin, co-owner of Oak Park specialty store Lively Athletics, talks about the mission behind her and her sister’s female-focused shop.
Q: How did you and your sister, Anne, get the idea for Lively Athletics?
A: It was about 7 years ago. Anne and I were both pretty avid runners, but we realized there weren’t any athletic stores in our area [Oak Park] catering more towards woman. The typical specialty shop felt more masculine and not always as inviting, tailored more towards the fast track star. So we thought maybe there was a way to make a store that feels like walking into Anthropologie, a running store that’s a little more bougie.
I was working full time and Anne was a stay at home mom, and she just called me one day and brought the idea up. It took us about two years to work on the business plan and deciding what it would look like, but we knew we wanted a place where woman felt comfortable being fit for a sports bra, or could come in with concerns about running postpartum.
Q: Does the name have any special meaning?
A: The name is probably the hardest part. We were brainstorming different names, and we wanted something that was clearly a little bit feminine, but not too girly and had an athletic or vibrant sound. So, that’s where Lively came from; it’s a bright, preppy word and there is something about it that is gently feminine. Our cousin is an artist and she designed the logo for us, and gave it the same treatment.
Q: Is it only a running specialty store, or can women find gear there for all sports?
A: Nearly right away, seriously within the first two weeks, we realized we needed to pivot into more of a general athletic store. Women coming in weren’t just runners; they were walkers, or went to yoga and barre classes, or even just to their local gym. So while we still cater to a lot of runners, we wanted to be a one-stop shop for women in our area regardless of their lifestyle.
Q: What brands and products can shoppers expect to find in your shop?
A: Shoe-wise, we made a place for ourselves by sharing really niche shoes. When we opened Hoka was still a really out-there brand, but now its like the top running shoe brand out there. On Running has also done well for us and was not widely known at first. So a lot of the brands have grown with us, and people come here for those brands. We also carry Saucony and Under Armour products.
We carry a lot of apparel, such as North Face because they’re great travel and athletic pieces. We always keep an eye out for smaller and lesser known brands that have comfortable, lifestyle items. For women’s running, we are obsessed with Oiselle, as they are directly in line with our female athlete empowerment vision. They started by trying to make a women’s running short, because at the time they were men’s running shorts just shrunk down, so they started rethinking that. We carry gels, chews and recovery products too. Anne is really into accessories too, and she looks for local artists we can work with and we sell their stuff in our stuff. We have a lot of jewelry, scarves and sunglasses.
Q: I saw on your website that you sell kids’ shoes now, too?
A: Yes. We had a studio space in the back of the store we used for yoga sessions and stuff like that, but it wasn’t used all that much and was pretty empty. We have so many moms shopping with us who bring their kids, and they would complain that it was hard to find kids’ shoes in the area. So, we opened a kids store within the store, and created an obstacle course for them to play on while they try on their shoes. And even if moms aren’t shopping for kids’ shoes, it’s nice to have a place kids can play while moms shop without bothering them.
Q: What types of events does Lively Athletics host?
A: We do a weekly fun run for men and women on Wednesday nights at 6:30, and it always ends with drinking beer. We work with some local restaurants who usually give runners a free drink. It’s a great way to bond with other local businesses, and we’re actually brewing a Lively-inspired IPA soon! We also do training groups too throughout the year and we partner with a local coach to help beginner runners. We do 5k to full marathon programs. We also sponsor local races and Concerts in the Park. We’re never not doing events, and we’re very loved in our community.
Q: Is there anything else Lively offers you want readers to know about?
A: Something else that we do that’s kind of interesting is we offer concierge shopping appointments. It’s more targeted for adults or children who have sensory issues or disabilities who might be overwhelmed when its busy. This way, they can come in and shop in peace. We are always thinking of ways to best serve our community. Oak Park has always been great for us so we want to return.
Q: Overall, what is the message you hope customers get when shopping at Lively?
A: We still hear from so many people who feel self-conscious when they are first starting running or exercise, or bounding back after giving birth, and we just want them to know we’ve all been there. You’re never alone, and we want to connect those people and help them reach their goals, whatever they are. So come in, and feel like you can move in your clothes!