Ken Combs Running Store is a specialty-sports store in Louisville dedicated to runners and other fitness-minded people. We carry footwear by Adidas, Asics, Brooks, Nike, Saucony,Vibram Mizuno, New Balance, Ryka and others. Our apparel selection ranges from running to aerobics and even swimming and multisport. In these pages you will find information about our store as well as training and racing tips. Looking for running accessories? We are now offering some of our most popular items for sale via our web site with eCommerce transactions being handled by our partner site, justsocks.
Ken Combs Running Store was established in November of 1980 by Ken and Sylvia Combs. Ken had coached and taught school in the Louisville area since 1956. His tradition of racing, coaching and teaching spilled over into a retail operation that carries with it the same excellence. Ken and Sylvia did their part in setting up Louisville’s road running scene and helped make it into what it is today.
Ken was instrumental in establishing the Metro Parks contribution to Louisville running. Today, both Ken, Sylvia, the clubs and the Parks Department conduct some of the cities finest races.
Ken and Sylvia have since retired from day to day operations of the Store. Larry Holt, (Sylvia’s son) carries on the same service and commitment started by his predecessors. Larry also grew up and went to school in the Louisville area. At 45 he has already had 27 years in retail and 23 years managing and owning the “hands on” retail and running marriage. Running for 30 years has given him the background to be part of rich running tradition in Louisville as well as part of the Ken Combs Running Store success.
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Racing ahead: Larry Holt turns years of running into running three successful businesses
By MARY ALAN WOODWARD
This first full week of the New Year means (once again) that many of us will make a beeline toward experts who will help us fulfill our resolutions to get in shape.
To supplement Weight Watchers classes and other mind-over-too-much-matter approaches, post-holiday hopefuls may head for retailers such as Ken Combs Running Store, at 4137 Shelbyville Road, to pick out clothing and accessories that will help them walk, run, aerobicize or cross-train their way to better health.
Larry Holt has been running not only toward fitness, but also toward a satisfying career during the past 33 of his 50 years. Now owner of Ken Combs Running Store, he has jogged through Central American jungles as well as Louisville’s parks, and is now sprinting through the wilderness of “e-business.”
A perfect fit
As a youngster growing up in Bullitt County, Holt played all manner of sports.
“It was Little League this, Little League that,” he said. “You can do that when you’re a kid on the small side, like me. By the time I started going to Bullitt Central High, I was only 5-foot-8, 130 pounds. I couldn’t have stayed alive in football or gotten any playing time in basketball.”
With little direction from his school’s sports department, Holt searched for an activity that suited him. A runner since the age of 14, Holt realized that he could think about things as he ran because he didn’t have to interact with teammates or competitors.
“A lone-runner kind of sport just seemed to fit my personality,” he said, “so I ran track and did some road races on my own.”
Fleet feet far away
Although running ovals on a cinder track can become boring, Holt found a way to expand his horizons in more ways than one.
“In 1979, I had the chance to be a summer exchange student at a high school in Guatemala, through my Spanish class,” he said, “so I jumped at it.”
In addition to his studies in Central America, Holt found time to go running with new friends, including an ex-Olympian athlete who showed him some terrific places to run.
“We ran through villages on muddy roads, over mountains, and through tropical storms,” Holt said. “Looking back on it, it may not have been terribly safe. I had a friend to give me all the good advice I needed to hear, but a blond American kid, a gringo in the jungle, could disappear pretty easily.”
The pie man cometh
While Holt was globe-trotting, his mother, Sylvia, married a familiar visitor to their house. Although Ken Combs is well-known as a former Trinity High School teacher, a state champion track and cross-country coach, and the visionary behind the Derby Festival mini-Marathon and other road races, Larry Holt had slightly different perspective.
“I already knew Ken through running, but when he’d come to our house,” Holt said, “he’d usually bring a pie from Plehn’s Bakery.”
The year 1980 was a turning point for the entire family. Sylvia and Ken Combs opened Ken Combs Running Store on Breckinridge Lane, and Larry headed toward Bellarmine University to pursue a career in science – perhaps research, technology or even medicine.
During his four years at Bellarmine, Holt worked part time at the store. However, after graduation in 1984, he decided to move away for a while.
“I figured it would be a good way to grow up, and to look for a job,” he said. “But finding one with a basic degree in biology wasn’t the most fun thing in the world.”
Instead, Holt found plenty of opportunities in retail sales, working in the Deep South for the Athletic Attic chain of stores and then with a partner in a store of their own.
In 1991, Holt returned to Louisville, and found Ken Combs ready to make him an offer he couldn’t run away from.
Combs decided to retire, and offered his stepson the opportunity to buy the store, which had been thriving since its move to Shelbyville Road in 1982.
Twenty years later, Larry Holt is happily settled in Crescent Hill with his wife, Nancy, and their young daughter, Bailey Jane.
And instead of only one enterprise, he now has three. The Shelbyville Road store, whose nine employees offer a variety of brands of shoes, clothing and accessories to their customers, has been joined by Happy Toes , at 410 N. Hurstbourne Parkway.
The Happy Toes store has four employees and basically one brand of merchandise that’s very popular with athletes. The two stores complement each other: Ken Combs Running Store has many brands for a few sports; and Happy Toes Store of Louisville specializes in family footwear and not just running.
Sock it to ‘em
The third enterprise, Just Socks, has no store at all – just an Internet location in cyberspace (justsocks.com). Using the 50,000 pairs of sports socks in his inventory at Ken Combs Running Store, plus UPS shipping software, Holt (with partner Michael Seiler) has delivered some 6,000 pairs of socks to online shoppers in the past three years.
“I wanted to be part of e-business, and this has turned out to be a lot of fun,” Holt said. “It isn’t a big investment, since we don’t have to hire any extra employees or retail space. We just get customers their socks and ship them out, and occasionally drop them a note to ask how they’re doing.”
“I’ve made some big changes over the past two decades, but the future looks good for us. As we get older, any of us can become afraid to make changes,” Holt said. “In retail, you just can’t be afraid.”
Still Pounding and some racing
Although Holt doesn’t run races much anymore, he runs each morning for at least an hour, often in Seneca Park or Cherokee Park. He’s still doing a triathlon here and there and improving his cycling and swimming game. And whereas Ken Combs used to put on as many as 18 road races in a year for Kentuckiana runners, Holt is happy to assist others with finish line and volunteer duties. He’s a retailer and still working on that game too.
However, Holt has taken up a couple of other new challenges in recent years. Free time when he has it goes toward singing and writing songs, “I play acoustic guitar, too, although my wife forces me to go to the basement. She shuts the door when I start singing like a hurt animal,” he said. “Occasionally I’ll take my guitar out here at the store and make a customer listen to me. For some reason, they always seem to want a discount afterward.”
Name: Larry Holt
Position: Owner, Ken Combs Running Store
Education: B.A. degree in biology, Bellarmine University
Family: Wife Nancy; daughter Bailey Jane, 15
Home town: Bullitt County