Towson’s Josh Levinson Runs with the Community in Charm City
Josh Levinson was in the wilds of Muir Woods in California, doing something outdoorsy on vacation with his family when I first called him. It was fitting he found someplace in the Bay Area where cell phone reception was bad, seeing as he’s sort of a pioneer in the greater Baltimore running community, blazing trails where none had existed through his Charm City Run stores. Though according to him, Mobtown already jogged up a storm.
“You know it’s so funny. Baltimore, it’s a totally underrated running community. Baltimore has a huge running community,” Levinson says.
Maybe so, but it took Levinson to connect the dots.
Residing in North Towson, Levinson, 45, and wife Kara, have three children: Ben, 16, Lucy, 13 and Samantha, 11. A Baltimore native, Levinson started running in the fifth grade, having been introduced to the pastime by his stepfather. A graduate of Gilman School and Washington and Lee University—he played football and lacrosse at both—Levinson holds an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and it’s during his time in the Lone Star capital that the inspiration first took root to establish Charm City Run. Well, Kara also played a role.
“When I met Kara in 1995, she was a runner, too. Wherever we traveled, we went running together. We went to Austin (for Levinson’s MBA) and just like every new town we went running down old Town Lake (now Lady Bird Lake) and a running store called RunTex was putting up free Gatorade or free Powerade and water every weekend, and Kara was like, ‘We gotta start buying our shoes there, you know. They’re supporting the community; we gotta support them.’”
After Levinson’s feeble attempt at a marathon, Kara bought him a RunTex training program. He became immersed in the running culture, but he fancied the community aspect as much as the running, the positive vibes of the store and customers both.
Following graduation, Levinson worked at Dell, which was a good experience, then at a small software company, which wasn’t. It made him question what he wanted to do with his life. When he and Kara were back in Baltimore visiting family, they were running on the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail (then known as the Northern Central Railway Trail) when she said, “Baltimore needs a RunTex.” To which he replied, “You’re crazy.”
Being an encourager, Kara convinced him to give it a shot, and in 2002, the dream was born with the opening of Charm City Run in Timonium, which was modeled after his beloved RunTex. (RunTex, which had several stores, recently closed.) Charm City Run has since opened six more stores, starting with Bel Air, followed by Annapolis, Columbia (formerly in Clarksville), McHenry Row (Baltimore), Belvedere Square (Baltimore) and Frederick, which opened on January 1. The Frederick store, If The Shoe Fits, will switch over to the Charm City Run name this year. The Belvedere Square store, named Vita, originally geared only toward active women, has now combined with Charm City Run.
Charm City Run is not only a top-notch running store with knowledgeable employees, but it’s also a place for people in the community to meet and get to know each other. Part of this includes stores hosting “fun runs” where customers and staff bond over asphalt, wooded trails, pounding rubber soles and burning lungs. The store also offers a plethora of training opportunities, for beginners to ultramarathoners. Some programs are free; some aren’t.
And with Levinson, community means charitable giving. The store helps raise more than $500,000 a year for local nonprofits through events it manages; invests in programs like Marathon Kids and Girls on the Run; gives 1 percent of store revenue to Maryland nonprofits; awards college scholarships to local runners; and even kicks in a buck toward gear for a worthy local runner for every high five Ian, the High Five Guy, receives while out pounding Baltimore-area pavement.
The store also hosts the Under Armour B3 Distance Series presented by KELLY, three area road races taking place throughout the year. But again, road racing, fitness and community meld in Levinson’s view.
“We really try to connect with the people in the community and give people a great experience,” Levinson says. “It’s not all about fitting shoes—it’s talking (to the customers) about life and stuff that’s going on. Our goal is to get people moving. And if we can give you a service that makes you more excited to get out there, I think everybody wins.” Visit CharmCityRun.com for store locations and hours, upcoming races and information about training programs.