Berkeley Sports celebrates 50 years of catering to Berkeley’s sporting needs

Erin Haar/Staff

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A small, locally owned store on Bancroft Way that caters to the athletic needs of the Berkeley community celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.

Berkeley Sports was founded in 1968 by Tom Voisen and is currently owned by Mike Inouye. Located on 2254 Bancroft Way, the store carries a variety of sporting goods and accessories, including soccer cleats and squash racquets.

Berkeley was the site of many sporting goods stores in the 1970s and 1980s, according to Inouye. Throughout Berkeley Sports’ long history, business has always remained steady. Though other sporting goods stores have opened and subsequently closed, business at Berkeley Sports has not changed much, Inouye said.

Though the store has been steady, Inouye said he has no plans to expand or relocate his business. Located directly across the street from the UC Berkeley campus, Berkeley Sports caters not only to the Berkeley community but also to the student body.

There are a number of locals and they just help the store (plug) along,” Inouye said. “For any business that’s near the university, we’re all subject to the same thing. Business right around a university campus is a little different from the same business in a shopping mall.”

Berkeley Sports customer and UC Berkeley student Trevor Williams said he was not surprised that the store has been in business for 50 years, especially because of its “impressive” inventory and convenient location.

Although the store has been in business for five decades now, Inouye said he still faces some challenges as he strives to find deals in order to offer lower prices to his customers.

“Everyday is just a different challenge,” Inouye said. “You’re just trying to figure out, ‘What things do I need to take advantage of in order to continue? What are some of the better deals I … can purchase so that I can offer good values to the students?’ ”

Despite the difficulties of competing with online retailers, Inouye said he hopes that his customers value the more “interactive” experience of shopping in a store.

“I like to think that they come back because they enjoy shopping here,” Inouye said. “I hope they appreciate the level of service that I provide. Sometimes you just want an interactive experience. You go into any store, you get to see it and feel it and try it on. Being able to go into a store, you can make a more informed purchase.”

Anne Michael, marketing coordinator of Sports Basement, another local sports store, also acknowledged the difficulties of competing with online markets but emphasized the importance of the local community.

“I think we have to find different ways to engage with the community,” Michael said. “We have a fantastic marketing community where we connect with those groups in the area. We like to have fun — we do different things with our sales that engage with our shoppers.”

For Inouye, interacting with the UC Berkeley students that frequent the store remains one of his favorite parts of his job.

“Ultimately, you have to like the people that you’re servicing, and certainly I have a very good time dealing with the students and the locals who have been loyal customers,” Inouye said.

Berkeley Sports originally catered mostly toward tennis equipment but has become more diverse over the years. Though badminton and squash have become increasingly popular, swimming remains one of the most popular sports, Inouye said.

Amy Gu, a Berkeley Sports customer, said that in the past 20 years she has witnessed a change in the shopping environment, especially for a city that seems “pretty vocal about supporting and preserving small businesses.”

While many big-chain businesses have moved in and replaced locally owned stores, Gu said she is happy that Berkeley Sports has stayed in business for so long.

“I’ll admit that I myself do not shop at small businesses if their prices are extraordinarily high, but if they can remain fairly competitive with big brands … then the convenience of just walking in and picking up what you need without the wait time and excessive packaging, plus the satisfaction of supporting your neighbors, outweigh the benefits of online shopping,” Gu said.

Inouye also expressed respect for other retail stores and “mom and pop” stores.

“I think you respect the other businesses that have been around for a long time, especially as the shopping environment has changed,” Inouye said. “We didn’t have to worry about internet 25 years ago. All those kinds of places — you just have a respect for the fact that they have been able to prosper over that many years.”

Jenny Weng covers businesses and economy. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jennyweng1999.