Name: Zach Gonzalez
Hometown: El Paso, Texas
Current Residence: Las Cruces, NM
Occupation: Specialty retail running store owner
Meet Zach Gonzalez, trail running fanatic and owner of the Bluebird Running Company. Zach and his wife Michelle shared a vision to open a running store which started as a mobile business in 2018. In the fall of 2021, they opened a brick and mortar store in downtown Las Cruces, NM. Read more about how their dream became a reality below!
1. How and when did you first fall in love with trail running?
I don’t remember when exactly, but growing up in El Paso, Texas (in the Chihuahuan desert) I was exposed to technical terrain at an early age. My first memory of hiking/running trails was when I attended pre-school at the University of Texas- El Paso (UTEP).
My mother was a student there at the time and I went to pre-school while she attended classes. For recess we would play outside and the playground was located at the top of a short, technical hill. I had to learn quickly how to navigate the technical terrain, especially when running downhill, to keep myself from falling.
2. Speaking of falling in love - you met your wife and business partner, Michelle, on the trails. Tell us how you met!
I met Michelle after moving back to El Paso after about a 20 year absence. Prior to moving back I lived in Farmington, NM and Flagstaff before that, among other places. After returning to El Paso I was looking for some local running groups to run with and happened upon the local Team RWB running/training group. The runs were on trails, roads and stadiums at local high schools and UTEP. At that time, Michelle was one of the captains/coordinators for most of the workouts plus other group activities.
I showed up for workouts and saw Michelle from afar but we didn’t really talk or run together. Sometime after I had been attending group events for a while I got the courage to contact her and ask her out, though she wasn’t aware I was interested in her. We went on a few dates before she realized what was going on, but once she did things progressed quickly after that.
3. You and Michelle launched your running store Bluebird Running Company in 2018. Was this always a dream of yours or was it more of a fortuitous opportunity?
I had often dreamed of working at a running store for a large part of my adult life. While in Flagstaff, work and my marriage fell apart and I relocated to Farmington to be close to my two kids and continue working for the federal government. Running in Farmington, NM and the surrounding Navajo Nation reinvigorated my love of running and the dream of starting a running store emerged. I didn’t have the opportunity to open a store at that time so I focused my attention on creating a Facebook page to promote all the group runs, races, etc that were happening in the area.
I chose the name Bluebird after Blue Bird Flour, which is used heavily for fry bread and Navajo tortillas. The name Bluebird Running became my homage to the Navajo, though I chose to use the one-word spelling of Bluebird over the name of the flour, which is Blue Bird. The Bluebird spelling was influenced by the mountain bluebirds I would see on the way from Farmington to Durango, Colorado, where I would go to run with Durango Running Club and Durango Running Company.
In Farmington I began creating artwork, logos and shirts for the brand, which I took with me when I eventually moved back to El Paso. It was during this time I started reaching out to shoe brands and other companies. When Michelle and I were dating she expressed an interest in opening her own running store, too, so we combined forces to make it happen.
4. Before opening a brick and mortar Bluebird location in October of 2021, your store was mobile - a trailer pulled along by your vehicle. What were some advantages of the mobile store? Do you have any fond memories of your pitstops?
Advantages of the store were many, especially because Michelle and I both had full-time office jobs at the time. Having the mobile store allowed us to have the presence of a store without having to invest in a permanent, retail location. It also gave us more flexibility in deciding when the store was “open.” At first, we would show up at trailheads, parks, other gathering places, after announcing where we would be through social media. At some point, I started reaching out to race directors, including those who were friends of ours, about setting up at their races.
Once we started setting up at New Mexico and El Paso area races, business grew and we were traveling often on the weekends. It was so much fun and became a great way to see new places and meet new people, hear and share stories. However, traveling as much as we did could be a grind depending on the distance and accommodations. Loading and unloading the trailer was a lot of work and the cost associated with travel was a bit of an inconvenience. We had a lot of great memories, but the opportunity to settle down and open a brick and mortar location was hard to pass up.
5. From Wu Tang to the Beastie Boys, you especially enjoy old school rap. Is there a particular song or album that’s always going to be on your running playlist?
Definitely, the soundtrack for Beat Street is forever on my mind. The movie came out when I was in elementary school and both the music and dancing were a big influence on me. I got into breakdancing and wearing parachute pants like many kids back in the day. Shortly after starting junior high school I got into skateboarding. One morning a skater friend of mine was listening to a cassette tape before school. He was really into the music while listening on his headphones. Some other friends and I asked to listen, not recognizing the sound. It turned out to be the Beastie Boys, which was way before they broke out big with Licensed to Ill.
The Beastie Boys became one of our go-to’s at that time as well as Public Enemy. My older brother took a liking to the Beastie Boys, which helped us bond more because up to that point we had diverse musical tastes. I enjoyed many of the other old school rappers like Kool Moe Dee, Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, and eventually N.W.A. As skaters, the rap of that time really spoke to us and influenced the way we lived our lives.
6. If you could only stock 3 running shoe/apparel brands in your store, which three would you choose?
At some point I would love to add a brand like Vuori. I’ve found their clothes, especially the shorts to be the most comfortable I’ve worn. On was the first shoe company that really listened to who we were when we were just starting out with the mobile store so we will be forever grateful to them. I would like to add La Sportiva at some point not just for the running shoes but because climbing and bouldering is a sport that is growing in Las Cruces and El Paso.
7. Do you have any upcoming adventures or races planned? Does the store have any upcoming events, races, sales, etc.?
Traveling to see and be with my kids is our priority over other events and travel so we’re focusing mainly on that. We were in Flagstaff this past Fall Break and took the opportunity to take the kids on the Grand Canyon Railway out of Williams, which was a great family experience.
We currently don’t have any upcoming races planned; we just take the opportunities as they come, though we’d like to stay closer to the local area if we set up for future races. I haven’t run a race this year, so that might be something to look forward to in 2023.