Reviving a retail chain can be more of a long-distance run than a sprint. But new owners Brent and Blake Sonnek-Schmelz are about to pass a crucial milestone: their first City Sports brick-and-mortar store.
Sorry, Boston fans, not here. This fitness apparel shop will open in April in suburban New Jersey, near the home base for the brothers’ 32-store Soccer Post chain. But it will be the model for what the brothers do with their future City Sports locations, with Boston and Philadelphia next in line. They hope to have a “pop up” store in those cities by the end of 2018. The locations could become permanent if the stores are successful, Brent Sonnek-Schmelz says.
How did a beloved Boston brand end up down the Jersey Shore? The previous owners grew too aggressively, expanding beyond the downtown locations that served their urban customers. The end result: a 2015 bankruptcy, then liquidation. The brothers, though, saw opportunity and scooped up the City Sports “intellectual property” — such as the website and customer lists — for $400,000.
The brothers foresee 10 stores in their core Northeast markets eventually, including two or three in Boston. The shops would be smaller, with more targeted assortments. But they need to confront the high rents in the places they want to be, like near City Sports’ former Back Bay location (now a Modell’s). Landlords and their lenders, they’ve found, often prefer to leave spaces empty rather than taking a haircut on lease terms. And then there’s Amazon.
While this venture has turned out to be more like a marathon, the surest way to the finish line is taking one step after another.