What’s the first image that comes to mind when you think of a Boston runner? Odds are, it’s not one of the people who run alongside Sidney Baptista.
Baptista is the founder of the Dorchester-based PIONEERS Run Crew, a collective of runners whose goal is to diversify a sport that’s still largely white. But even with that support, group members still didn’t have everything they needed. Baptista said athletic apparel at mainstream stores doesn’t fit many types of bodies, so they created their own brand of streetwear and last week opened a pop-up shop in Back Bay.
“Our running community looks a lot different than what you would see at the starting line, the front line of the Boston Marathon, right?” he said. “We’re the folks in the back, we’re the folks in the middle of the pack. And some of those bodies aren’t lean. I would say most marathon bodies aren’t lean and skinny and tall.”
PYNRS Performance Streetwear launched last year with the aim of making gear for athletes who may have never seen somebody like themselves represented on billboards, ads or at major brands’ stores. It’s a brand for runners who may not have what Baptista calls “aspirational bodies.” And that brand now has a home with a pop-up shop at 81 Newbury St. — just in time for the 126th Boston Marathon.
The store will only be open for the month of April as PYNRS gets a feel for what comes next. But Baptista is keenly aware of the impact the Black-owned business has on Newbury Street, on the same level as major brands like Nike, on the week of the marathon.
“Boston is a pretty elite crowd, but people of color who come into Boston, they always say, ‘We never find anything that’s community of color, that’s like Black- or brown-focused when we come into Boston for the Marathon.’ Well, yeah, because we don’t live over here,” he said about the area around the finish line. “So being able to have a space over here to welcome people who come into the city of different, kind of diverse backgrounds, I think it’s something that’s been missing for a while.
“And we’re doing it in a big way, right?” he said. “We are a high-end apparal company and we’re providing a really high-end experience.”
The story of PYNRS goes back well beyond Sunday’s pop-up grand opening. Baptista, who founded the running crew in 2017, first got the idea for a brand about three years ago.
In February 2021, he launched a crowdfunding campaign that raised over $50,000 to help properly get the brand off the ground.
One of the people whose helped Baptista along the way is Derrick Duplessy, whose nonprofit Duplessy Foundation works to coach women, immigrant and minority business owners.
“You know, I think the biggest challenge an entrepeneur has is that you’re doing everything yourself to begin with and now you have to trust other people as your vision gets bigger and bigger,” he said. “So that’s been really cool to see, and there’s even more that Sid needs to do so that the store can run and the e-commerce website can run. So there’s a little bit more work to do, but I’m very excited to see his growth and other people taking leadership roles in his vision.”
That vision was on full display at a grand opening celebration for the store. Guests and old friends mingled while a DJ played tracks over a loudspeaker. It felt less like a traditional store and more like an art gallery with the crisp white walls creating a canvas for the gear to shine.
The merchandise available at the shop is all the essentials are a runner would need: shirts, joggers, sports bras, sweat shirts, select sneakers from brands like Nike and Adidas and beanies for when it gets cold.
But many people attending the grand opening were focused less on retail and more on commemorating how much the PIONEERS and Baptista had done to diversify the sport.
“I think representation in athletics is really important, especially in today’s day and age,” said Raven Sead, who was volunteering at the store Sunday. “And I think Sidney’s doing a really cool thing, you know? Extending those resources and marketing towards people that look like everyday people, ’cause those are the athletes at the end of the day.”
For Barak Soreff, one of the leaders of the PIONEERS Run Crew, the brand is a logical evolution for the group.
“Sid started PIONEERS Run Crew to bring running to his own neighborhood and to his community, and this clothing line is, like I said, it’s like an extension, like the next step of that,” he said. “It’s like, OK, we’re doing our activity where we want to do [it], with who we want to do it. Now let’s make clothes that are specifically tailored — no pun intended — specifically tailored for those individuals.”