DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Sport Chalet’s journey to opening a Downtown Los Angeles store is almost 15 years in the making.
Officials with the La Cañada-Flintridge-based sporting goods chain first started considering Downtown as a location for its expanding brand in 1999. That’s when Staples Center opened.
The new arena promised to jumpstart the revitalization of an area that was seriously devoid of retail amenities, including sporting goods. At the time, area workers who wanted everything from running shoes to golf clubs had to drive outside the neighborhood.
Since then, the Downtown residential population has surged and many of those retail holes have been filled. Yet although grocery stores, movie theaters, gyms and lots of restaurants moved in, Downtown continued to lack a store catering to active, outdoorsy types.
That all changed on June 28, when Sport Chalet opened on the lower level of the FIGat7th shopping center. Now sleeping bags, camping stoves, baseball gloves, stand-up paddle boards and thousands of other items can be found in the Central City.
“For 15 years we did all kinds of analytics and there’s this big gaping hole in the center of Southern California and we said we had to be there,” said Craig Levra, company chairman and CEO. “Until now, there was no correct vehicle to do that.”
Levra believes the company’s 27,000-square-foot store at FIGat7th, which Brookfield Properties has spent two years and $40 million renovating and rebranding, positions Sport Chalet to capture three demographics.
First, he thinks the store will appeal to Downtown’s approximately 50,000 residents, who traditionally drove to Pasadena or the Westside for high-end sporting goods.
The shop will also serve the area’s half-million strong daytime working population. Levra thinks the shop’s rental services will be especially convenient for Downtown employees who might want to grab, say, a snowboard for a weekend trip.
Lastly, the store is expected to appeal to tourists staying in the Financial District. That’s why the 68-member staff collectively speaks six languages: English, Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Hindi (there will also be foreign language wayfinding signage).
The Downtown store is about two-thirds the size of a standard Sport Chalet, which means the company had to narrow its inventory. That’s why the business lacks, for example, a fishing department. It is also why joggers might notice a smaller selection of running shoes than at other Sport Chalets.
The inventory balance, however, is subject to change depending on customer demand. Sport Chalet worked with Downtown-based architecture firm Gensler to design the store so that it could quickly adjust layouts according to sales data and customer feedback, Levra said.
All of the fixtures are on wheels, and Levra said that, should the need arise, the store could have a fishing department up within 48 hours.
No Cookie Cutter Shop
When Brookfield decided in 2010 to upgrade its aging shopping complex at Figueroa and Seventh streets, the company’s guiding vision was to create a place that was recognizable as a uniquely Southern California destination.
First came the anchor tenant, a 104,000-square foot City Target, which debuted in October (Brookfield also recently inked a deal to bring fashion retailer Zara to the site). After that, the company wanted to mix high-end shops with Los Angeles-based restaurants and other tenants with links to the region. Sport Chalet fit the vision, both because of its L.A.-area roots (it was founded by Norbert Olberz in La Cañada-Flintridge in 1959) and because it is seen as a high-end sporting goods store, said Bert Dezzutti, Brookfield senior vice president.
“We felt the Sport Chalet was unique,” Dezzutti said. “It wasn’t something that would be mistaken for a cookie cutter store.”
Sport Chalet tries to separate itself from competitors in part by promising a highly trained sales force. The company, which is public and has 53 stores in four states, calls all of its employees “experts.”
The experts are primarily selling items made by the most recognizable brands in athletic gear. Whereas some chains sell knock-off goods at lower prices, Sport Chalet sticks with the high-end companies — think Nike, North Face or Reebok — and only their latest products.
In addition to the bike, camping and running departments, the store has an array of athletic clothing, footwear, swimming accessories and even a scuba section (the company bills itself as the largest scuba retailer in the country).
Customers can also get a leather baseball glove steamed for $10 (it accelerates the break-in time) and runners can have their gait analyzed by special video software to help select the best shoes. Tennis players can have their rackets restrung.
The Downtown shop also will offer an array of classes geared toward using specialty gear. Sessions could include how to replace a bike tube, fitting a hiking backpack or preparing to climb Mt. Whitney.
“Genuinely, I’m excited when I go down and I see that store,” Dezzutti said. “You just go in there and it’s like, yes! You fist pump because Downtown needs this.”
With the opening of Sport Chalet, FIGat7th is now about 70% occupied. The landlord expects to finalize deals for additional fashion entities within 90 days that will bring occupancy to about 85%, Dezzutti said.
Contact Ryan Vaillancourt at firstname.lastname@example.org.