The spirit of the Boston Marathon can’t be measured in a single day, even if that day is Patriot’s Day, which commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War. Thus, the post-race celebration would always run over to at least the following day — though often much longer. And for many that would include a pilgrimage to the Bill Rodgers Running Center at Quincy Market in the shadow of Faneuil Hall where so much of the Revolutionary fervor had been stoked.
Down in the lower level of the store a small black & white TV replayed the marathon coverage from the day before, while four-time champion Bill and a guest would sit at a small table and sign books and posters for hours on end. Weaving through the serpentine line that snaked from the upper level of the store, Charlie Rodgers and assistant manager and childhood friend Jason Kehoe, along with the odd tribe of employees and friends that defined the store, served the actual customers not there simply to share a word or take a picture with the American running icon.
Bill’s older brother Charlie, being a single malt whiskey aficionado, jokingly referred to the Tuesday after the Boston Marathon as “International Drinking Day” at the Bill Rodgers Running Center as friends of the store from around the world would also stop by to say hello and drink in the running lore that layered the walls.
Upstairs, former Soviet Union marathon national team member Yuri Laptev would set up a card table offering Russian nesting dolls and sports memorabilia pins. Every hour or so Charlie would call for a “wee dram” as the labors of retail would halt, and the boys repair to the cluttered office out back where Charlie’s collection of single malt whiskeys sat impressively atop a battered old filing cabinet.
In the fall of 2012 the store closed after a 35-year run. The sudden passing of assistant manager Jason Kehoe that June served as the catalyst, but the store’s heyday was behind it in any case as newer, slicker operations opened around town and on-line to replace the hands on, analog way of doing business.
This year, the day after Meb Keflezighi’s emotional win on Patriot’s Day, Toya and I met our San Diego friends Rick and Marla Nelson at Quincy Market for a celebratory lunch following Marla’s sub-4:00 performance in her first Boston Marathon. Toya had coached Marla to her qualifier and Boston run, and it was a fine celebration at Ned Devine’s, one of the brick-walled eateries inside Quincy Market. Afterwards, I drifted over to the North Market building where Bill’s store had held forth for so long.
There I was saddened, yes, as windows that were once spread with running pictures and posters were now covered in plain white paper. The hall and stairs that once teemed with marathoners now lie vacant and hollow. But seeing that no new business had taken over the space heartened me, as well. Seems the period of mourning continues for the old space. Perhaps it should stay this way, a reminder of a moment in time when running still ruled, and Bill remained King. Maybe Meb might be considering an expansion east.