"We didn't want to stay too long at the fair," says co-owner Karen Holappa. Now in her seventies, with gray hair pulled back in a bun, she is an eminence grise in Ann Arbor's running community and still runs marathons. Her son Matt, a teenager when his mom bought the business and now an impossibly young-looking forty-two, has long been a partner in the business.
Ann Arbor got into running in a big way in the 1970s when Elmo Morales--"the godfather of Ann Arbor running," as Matt calls him--founded the Ann Arbor Track Club. "I remember when he wanted to print that T-shirt that said 'Get the Masses Off Their Asses,'" Karen smiles. The AATC led to the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run. Bruce Dyer, a track coach at Greenhills, started the Tortoise and Hare on Liberty, and Charlie Blanchard, another runner, opened a store around the block on Washington called Total Runner.
"I began running in '78, just trying to run a mile," says Karen. By the early 1980s she was training for marathons, and Blanchard, who "knew me because of the running community, asked me if I wanted to work at Total Runner part time. Then he wanted me to buy it, but I didn't want to go into competition with Tortoise and Hare. Bruce was a family friend. He'd been Matt's track coach."
Holappa bought Tortoise and Hare from Dyer in 1985. Randy Step bought Total Runner the same year and changed the name to Running Fit; eventually it, too, moved to Liberty.