Philip Maramba: His bargain with the community suits him to a T (shirt)

Sport Mart in Charleston announced last month that it was closing. The retailer has been a go-to spot for sporting goods and apparel to the area for more than 80 years.

It’s an end of summer ritual. I get amped for West Virginia football at about the same time I need to find my godson a birthday present.

Luckily for me, he’s a football fan. (Actually, he’s now big enough to be a football player; he’s a defensive end in a Florida Pop Warner league.)

So ever since he was a tot, he’s been the beneficiary of Uncle P’s efforts to remind him of his roots as well as counteract the Virginia Tech influence of his mama’s family in Roanoke with all manner of WVU attire.

When he was a toddler, he was enamored with a blue onesie featuring a gold Flying WV on the chest. He wore it long after he outgrew it because it put him in mind of Superman’s “S” and made him feel, well, super.

This year, it’s no different. Emboldened with the optimism that only hope can provide, I’m excited to watch my Mountaineers tee it up against Alabama’s Crimson Tide next week.

And not long after, my nephew turns 12. Time for another WVU T-shirt.

But my go-to shop is getting ready to close for good.

Sport Mart announced last month that after more than 80 years, they’re shutting down.

They were the advertised headquarters for authentic Nike team gear with a broad array of products, from replica jerseys to ball caps.

And while it wasn’t as extensive, I always thought they gave a good amount of floor space to Marshall University attire, too. (I married into the Herd, so to speak, so I’ve bought — and worn — the replica T-shirt in solidarity with my wife.)

I got healthy thanks to the Sport Mart’s stocking of swim trunks and goggles in the off-season. Bought multi-packs of running socks there, too. And snow skis and a snowboard and boots.

I liked that it was a real, homegrown sporting goods store, complete with trophies, tennis rackets, pool tables and fishing gear.

Sure, the jersey I bought for my nephew was probably made in Indonesia or the Philippines, but there was a charm to buying a West Virginia shirt from a West Virginia company.

With online shopping and box stores squeezing out mom and pop retailers, I felt a kind of civic pride that a Charleston-based business was still in there slugging it out with … the world.

Their prices were competitive with similar merchandise at the national retailers in town and their sales and coupons were usually pretty good deals.

Stack that up against shipping charges or traffic hassles, and, well, not only were you contributing to the local economy’s well-being, the lack of stress was probably helping your own.

It’s funny how my attitude to retail has changed.

Even when I was a kid and it was mostly social, just hanging out at the mall, I was still price conscious. Working as a filing clerk in Dad’s office after school, I could appreciate getting three 45-rpm singles for five bucks.

I catalog-shopped and did mail order to get gear and apparel from out-of-state discount houses. And with the rise of the Internet, I had a nation of vendors with which to comparison shop.

Then at some point, probably after I entered the working world, I realized fighting crowds and dealing with restocking fees didn’t always offset the couple of dollars I was saving on merchandise.

Convenience had a price, too. And in my mind, it kind of ate away at any discount I might have been seeking online or in a strip mall.

That said, I still do business on the Web and with national retailers here in town. After all, a great bargain is a great bargain no matter who’s doing the selling.

It’s just that as I’ve become more a part of this community, it only seemed right that I give my support to my adopted hometown and the people who are trying to make a living in it.

Plus, it keeps my tax dollars here. And I build up the equity of becoming a familiar face. Little things, to be sure, but I’d like to think they add up to something good.

So long live Pile Hardware, Budget Tapes and Records and Charleston Department Store (which also sells a fine line of WVU fan gear, by the way).

And maybe, just maybe, as the owners of Sport Mart hope, one of the potential buyers that have been window shopping their business will step up to make the deal that will keep a local player in the game.

They could count on me to do my share to keep them in the fight.

Contact writer Philip Maramba at or 304-348-1703. Follow him at

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