Let me just preface this post, and all future posts, by saying that nothing I write is ever intended to call out any individual, group of individuals, or particular establishment - unless expressly noted. These blog posts are merely matter-of-fact accounts of my experiences as I test some social boundaries.
Now, then, I went to the Baileys Crossroads REI last Wednesday night (2/27) for a Minimalist Running Basics class. I'm a seasoned barefoot runner but I think there is always something to be learned in a classroom environment - oh yeah, and I wanted to plug some barefoot organizations and upcoming running events. :))
As a true barefoot runner, naturally I wanted to make an authentic representation so I wore one of my barefoot running T-shirts and long compressions pants (it's still a bit chilly out) and, of course, bare feet. Upon entering the store I immediately noticed two employees noticing me. I expected this and didn't let it phase me. As I was making my way to the classroom I stopped and headed back toward the front of the store. I approached those two employees and asked where the class was being held. I already knew the answer but wanted to establish that I wasn't a threat and offer an opportunity for either of them to challenge me. I got the classroom location but that was it. No weird looks, no asking me to leave the store, nothing of the sort. All was well...until I made one more trip to the front of the store to make a purchase. The same two employees were there and took care of me. As I was making my purchase, the young lady said I needed to have shoes on in the store. I told her it was my understanding that REI stores were barefoot friendly and asked if there was someone in the store that could shed some light. The young man added, I'm guessing in my support, that there was no "sign" posted at the entrance. The manager just happened to be nearby and came over to assist. She concurred that barefoot patrons are frowned upon. Her reasoning was that it would be very easy for a barefoot customer to walk out in a pair of shoes and no one would be the wiser. I told her I understood but she did cut me some slack. She knew I was there for the running class and told me I would be ok for the night.
While this was going on, several other people happened by. I got a weird look form an older woman and look of disbelief from another female employee. Maybe it was the toe rings. Any way, the class was quite informative. Store employee Erin was the presenter. She is an accomplished runner and really knows her stuff. Everything she said was right on the money. Wish more people had shown up for the engagement.
So, we're going to call this one a draw. I wasn't welcomed in with open arms but I wasn't turned away either. Just for the record, REI - at the corporate level - recently addressed barefoot patrons...and it was favorable. You can read about it here if you like.
There's an upcoming running clinic at a different venue. Check back here soon for how I fare.