Since it opened in 1930, a year into the Great Depression, Sport Mart has supplied decades of West Virginia residents with sports equipment and uniforms. The store moved out of downtown Charleston in the 1980s, and has fought the growth of megastore retailers and the rise of online commerce in recent years.
On Wednesday, officials with the local sporting goods retailer announced that it will close after more than 84 years in business. A liquidation sale at the MacCorkle Avenue store will begin Aug. 1.
“This is a very sad time for the Sport Mart family, as most of our employees have been with us for 20 years or more,” John Smallridge, the store’s president, said in a prepared statement.
Having worked at Sport Mart for 36 years, Cheryl Clendenin couldn’t agree more with Smallridge’s sentiment. The store’s bookkeeper and office manager said she cried when Smallridge broke the news to his 25 employees Tuesday.
“It was a tearjerker [Tuesday] morning. It’s like a death in the family,” Clendenin said. “I thought I would retire from here.”
Tim Huter, a consultant for Smallridge, said, “Essentially, we had the business up for sale … . We had some interest, but no contract.”
Huter said Sport Mart was listed at $1.9 million and that many sporting goods retailers across the state looked into it.
“[The interested buyers] all want to be in Charleston. They are very encouraged by the Charleston market … but nobody could come up with the money,” he said. “We just had a really tough time over the past two to three years with competition, the Internet and the economy. All the external factors of competition and the economy were taking its toll on our business.”
Michelle James, a resident of Clay County, heard the news when she visited Sport Mart with her three children Wednesday.
“This is our go-to place. Anytime we need anything, we come here,” she said. “It’s sad to see a business that has been in Charleston for so long close, but business owners have to do what they have to do.”
In the company’s prepared statement, Smallridge said, “Sport Mart has a longstanding relationship with the local school systems in Charleston and surrounding areas and plans to honor all of its commitments for merchandise sold to those schools.”
Longtime residents of Charleston might remember Sport Mart’s longstanding home on Quarrier Street, downtown.
After the Charleston Town Center Mall opened in 1983, Sport Mart decided to follow many other businesses out of downtown by moving to the mall. The store also opened a branch in the Kanawha Mall in 1985, then closed it almost a decade later.
After the store’s lease in the Charleston Town Center expired in 1993, it moved to its current 30,000-square-feet location on MacCorkle Avenue.
During Sport Mart’s 75th anniversary in 2005, then-general manager Bob Lilly told the Gazette “sales have been steady, which is a good thing because of all the competition that has been around.”
In Wednesday’s prepared statement, Sport Mart said it will continue to entertain offers for the business. “[We are] certainly willing at this point to take less than [the asking price],” Huter said.
He said part of the desire to sell “is about protecting jobs” for the 25 employees. If a buyer does not step forward in the coming months, Huter said, the retailer will be forced to close its doors when the company’s lease concludes at the end of 2014.
Reach Anna Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5100.