RC Outfitter’s Adam White is that rare bird: A Downtown retailer
RC Outfitters is a retail destination in Downtown Peoria.
It hasn’t been easy for store owner Adam White to earn that rare designation.
RC Outfitters is the successor to Running Central, which opened in 1977 at the corner of Main Street and Sheridan Road in Peoria and remained there for 33 years. White and his brother Ian purchased Running Central from Steve Shostrum in 2008 and moved it to Heritage Square in Peoria Heights in 2011.
Despite creating a spacious, modern space that some customers say has the look and feel of a downtown Chicago store, White has had to leap over several hurdles since moving in 2014 to the former Illinois Antique Center, a historic building on Peoria’s riverfront at 311 SW Water St. The most daunting obstacles that fell in White’s lap were the proliferation of unscrupulous online shopping sites, followed almost immediately by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A vortex of holy crud,” is how White described the back-to-back storms.
RC Outfitters has survived and thrived because White changed the focus of his business from running wear to active lifestyle wear with an accompanying name change from Running Central to RC Outfitters. Meanwhile, he made customer service a priority, got deeply involved in the community, and became an outspoken advocate for Downtown.
A ‘non-essential’ fights back
Then there was White’s refusal to lock his doors indefinitely during COVID, in defiance of Gov. JB Pritzker’s continuance of his emergency 30-day stay-at-home order in the spring of 2020. Businesses like RC Outfitters were considered “non-essential,” and thus directed to close, even as many big box retailers selling some of the same goods were permitted to stay open. With the future of his business and what he considered his civil liberties at stake, White sued the governor, citing it as his “only prayer” for survival.
Ultimately, he could not convince a Sangamon County judge to see things his way, but the effort garnered national media attention and ironically, White maintains, saved his business and his employees’ livelihoods.
“We saw as many customers during that time period as we’d usually see in six months, and they came from 20, 30, 45, 60, 90 miles away,” he said. “I was proud I stood up when so many sat down.”
A born risk-taker, an ‘old school’ approach
Suing a governor was a bold move. So was opening a business Downtown, said a longtime RC Outfitters customer.
“Adam took a gamble. He stuck his neck out,” said Peoria resident Larry Madison. “He’s the No. 1 reason I go Downtown. I shop at his store two or three times a month. I probably wouldn’t go Downtown more than three or four times a year if Adam wasn’t there.”
“I don’t know if I would normally go to those businesses if Adam’s store wasn’t Downtown,” he said.
Madison and Cathy Williams of Peoria, another longtime RC Outfitters customer, were ebullient in their praise for RC Outfitters’ customer service. About 40 employees work there.
“You feel like family when you walk in the door,” Madison said. “You can tell Adam’s staff has been trained well. Whether it’s an 18-year-old or a 65-year-old, they know their stuff.” Williams calls the RC Outfitters staff “old school.”
“You get a hand-written note in the mail after you’ve shopped there. Who else does that?” she said. “It’s all about the small details that make shopping there so enjoyable.”
A bigtime, Windy City feel
Madison and Dawn Kellum of Peoria, another longtime RC Outfitters customer, said RC Outfitters is unique in downstate Illinois.
“The first time I went in there, I thought, I’m in downtown Chicago,” Madison said. “Adam carries Royal Robbins clothing, which I love and can’t find anywhere else around here.”
White is proud of his 20,000-square-foot store, which brags 9,000 square feet of showroom space and offers active-lifestyle merchandise appropriate for the office and travel.
With 250,000 people living within a 20-mile radius of his store, White has a solid customer base covering 16 counties. But he’s well aware that alone doesn’t guarantee success for a business.
“I can’t be everything to everybody, but I can find a niche and do it well,” White said, noting the majority of his customers are between 30 and 65. Some 60% are women.
RC Outfitters carries more than 7,000 pairs of shoes including lifestyle brands such as Birkenstock, Blundstone, Oboz and Hey Dude. Apparel sales account for almost 50% of the store’s revenue, White said. There are nearly 10,000 apparel units on hand from more than 20 brands like lululemon, Vuori, Fjallraven and RC Outfitters’ own private label.
Cathy Williams likes what she sees when she shops at RC Outfitters.
“It has everything I need under one roof,” she said. “Adam has a knack for identifying trends before they become trends. His shoe selection is progressive and his running gear and casual wear are unique to Peoria.”
A competitive streak translates to business
Another ingredient to RC Outfitters’ success has been ShaZam Racing, a spinoff race-timing business White owns with business partner Brad Henz, whom he calls a “timing guru.”
Running has been a longtime passion for White, who took second place in the 1993 Class AA cross country state finals while he was at Peoria Notre Dame High School, later ran at Wabash College in Indiana, and has competed in most major marathons around the world.
ShaZam Racing owns and operates five area races, including signature events such as the Blarney Blitz to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day and Detweiller At Dark during the summer.
The company provided timing and results services for about 200 races in 2022, many of them junior high school, high school and college cross country and track meets. White hopes to increase the number of races ShaZam does for clients by 10% this year.
A retail resurgence Downtown?
White said he’s cautiously optimistic that more retail businesses will join him Downtown and help revive an area he calls central to the economic health of central Illinois. All that’s needed, he said, are more downtown residents. He’s encouraged by the number of completed and planned residential projects.
“When we’ll get more retail downtown and what kind of retail we’ll get are yet to be determined,” he said. “If there’s an influx of downtown residents, we’ll see more retail. I believe in small business people. If they recognize an opportunity, they’ll take advantage of it.”
White has advice for entrepreneurs thinking about opening a business in Downtown Peoria.
“Don’t rule it out because of the inherent challenges of having a downtown business,” the third-generation Peorian said. “Do your due diligence. Run numbers. Look short term and long term. Don’t hesitate to ask for assistance from the city. If you decide Downtown works for you, you won’t regret it.”