Smith's Sport Store closes after 87 years

Smith's Sport Store officially closed its doors on Dec. 30, 2010 after 87 years of business in the St. Marys downtown area. According to owner Jeff Buchheit, the biggest reason for the decision to close the business stemmed from people changing the way they spend their time. "Hunting has changed dramatically over the course of the last 20 years, but it's been on a fast-paced changed in the last five," Buchheit said.In particular, Buchheit remarked that six or seven years ago the business would sell a few hundred non-resident hunting licenses on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday prior to the start of the season. This year, he noted, they sold around 10. "Hunting is what really was the big thing, rifle hunting. The archery hunting is still very good, very strong, but [as far as] the regular rifle hunting [goes], the casual hunter is gone," Buchheit said. "There are very few new hunters coming into the area."Buchheit indicated that he first began considering closing the store during deer hunting season. "I think probably what really hit us was deer season was just not even close to what we needed. We originally looked at making some changes and just downsizing the store. It wasn't feasible for us to do that so we had to make the hard decision to close the doors. There are some potential clients and stuff that we're looking at [with regard to] renting the space and doing some things with those people, and it's going to be up to them as to what they do," Buchheit said. Selling the business was not really considered to be an option, Buchheit explained. "There are certain parts of the business that were really successful and certain parts of the business that were just pulling us down. It was really just that, even if we made the changes, it was no longer going to be Smith's Sport Store. It was going to be a completely different entity," Buchheit said. Buchheit also remarked that the future opening of Dunham's Sports along the Million Dollar Highway had no impact on his decision to close the business. "Dunham's is going to introduce people to, not so much a new type of shopping, but a lot of new sports that haven't been pushed in this area," Buchheit said. "There's going to be a different line of product available. It's going to change how people recreate. That's the big thing with Dunham's, is Dunham's has had nothing to do with me going out of business whatsoever."A rich history Smith's Sport Store was first established in 1923 by Raymond F. Smith of Johnsonburg, in what was formerly the McGovern Hotel on Erie Avenue. Smith, a former Benzinger Township schoolteacher, sold a variety of items at the store, including surplus items from World War I, sporting equipment and men's clothing. "It grew and it actually, things took off," Buchheit said of the early days of the business. "The days of the Depression, I know, were very difficult. I had asked questions about that, about how Ray Smith survived the Depression, and they said [he managed it] essentially 'one shell at a time.' If you wanted to buy one bullet, he would sell you one bullet. It's the only way they managed to make it go."Smith's son-in-law, Robert Ginther, eventually took over ownership of the business after starting out as an employee in 1946. Looking back on the history of Smith's Sport Store and its contributions to the community, Buchheit stressed that the business and its employees have had a positive impact on the area. "Ray Smith was a very big part of helping getting the St. Marys Sportsmen's Club off the ground in its inception. Bob Ginther [also] did a lot for the community. He was on various community boards and stuff like that. The store has always had downtown leaders, always. Bob Ginther [even participated in] the church choirs and all that kind of stuff," Buchheit said.Buchheit began working at Smith's in 1988 as a part-time employee responsible for reconditioning used appliances. After working his way through various positions in the business, he purchased the store from Robert and Carol Ginther in 1996. For more on this story, see the Jan. 12 edition of The Daily Press.