Commonwealth Running Company prepares to open in Evanston


Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson

Participants in the 2019 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Commonwealth Running Company will be opening up shop to runners of all ages and skills in downtown Evanston.

Jacob Fulton, Assistant City Reporter

Commonwealth Running Company is a specialty footwear store nearly a decade in the making, and by the end of the month, owner Matthew Abitbol’s dreams of running a shoe store will finally come to fruition.

The store, located at 1631 Sherman Ave., was first conceptualized in 2011. Abitbol said he began to run in 2008, and connected with the sport as a way to stay active. However, as a beginner, he said he wasn’t comfortable in typical specialty shops, which seemed to cater to hardcore athletes. So, the idea for Commonwealth — a store focused on including runners at all skill levels — was born.

“I was walking into shops that were primarily guys that were 120 pounds and skinny as a rail,” Abitbol said. “These guys were probably putting up five-minute miles. That’s intimidating for someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.”

After coming up with the idea, Abitbol said he began to form a business plan. He visited specialty stores and took notes about what he liked at each. He also began saving money so he would be able to open the shop.

In May 2019, Abitbol quit his job to work on opening the store full-time. But before the store could open, one of his most important challenges was deciding where the store would be located.

A Chicago native, Abitbol said he initially planned to open the store downtown, but the market in the area was already saturated with running shops. As a result, he came to Evanston to fill the niche in this city instead.

Melissa Polivka, the president of the Evanston Running Club, said the club’s 600 members range in skill and commitment to running. She said she is excited about her plans for the group’s interaction with the store.

“The location is a natural place for us to gather for the beginning and end of a run,” Polivka said. “We have a lot of members, including some of our leaders, that don’t even have vehicles, so it’s great to have this store as a central location to be able to find shoes and buy gear, but also grow a running community-based in the store.”

Annie Coakley, the executive director of Downtown Evanston, said she anticipates Commonwealth’s work in building a running community will unite Evanston residents.

She said she was first informed of the store’s opening in December, and since then, has met with Abitbol to coordinate promotion from the city’s end and learn more about Commonwealth’s mission.

“We’re here to support businesses by promoting their product, their store and the services that they provide by plugging them into some additional advertising that will help them do PR outreach,” Coakley said.

Abitbol said he plans to open the store by the end of February, but he wants to ensure that he prepares the best possible environment for his customers.

Above anything else, he said quality of service is the store’s top priority.

“I really wanted to build a store for an entire community,” Abitbol said. “I want to help people feel more comfortable in a place where maybe they wouldn’t have before.”

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Twitter: @jacobnfulton1