Friday, April 27 , 2018, 1:48 am | Fair 50º



Goleta Sports Calling It Quits After 35 Years in Business

Bob Lovelace says rising rent and a poor economy are forcing him to close up shop

The trend toward Internet sales, increasing rent and a poor economy will force Goleta Sports to call it quits in June after 35 years in business.

The sporting goods store is owned by Santa Barbara native Bob Lovelace. His business thrived by catering to local sports leagues and school athletic programs. Lovelace said he would special-order school colors that weren’t available in big-box stores.

The store stayed open for more than three decades because of a knowledgeable staff, better quality products and understanding the needs of the local community, Lovelace said.

“We know what the kids are using and have always had the right product at the right time,” he said. “There was so much loyalty in the team business that you would have regular customers, and that was fun.”

But times have changed, and pricing has trumped relationships even if it meant the difference of a few bucks, Lovelace said.

“Schools don’t have the budget anymore,” he said. “Everything is price; it has nothing to do with the relationship, and the Internet has caused a lot of that.”

The Santa Barbara High School athlete and SBCC graduate opened the business at the University Village Shopping Center, where it broke even after its first year and expanded. Business remained consistent throughout, but when sales dropped about 14 years ago, across the street from its current location in the Calle Real Shopping Center, landlord Michael Towbes helped out.

“When they were remodeling next door, I asked them to help us get through this together, and as soon as sales increase bump the rent back up,” Lovelace said. “They dropped the rent 20 percent.”

But since the recession, that hasn’t been the case the following two times he asked for rent relief.

“I’ve been in this shopping center for 19 years,” Lovelace said. “It seems like landlords should share in the recession and not think business is as usual.”

Traci Taitt from The Towbes Group said the two sides negotiated for the past 18 months but couldn’t settle on an agreement. The lease expired a year ago, but Lovelace was a long-standing tenant and she said she’s sorry to see him go.

“We couldn’t reach agreeable terms,” Taitt said. “We were straightforward and gave him several opportunities, but apparently none of those were suitable for him.”

Lovelace said landlords need to realize the economy is in the tank and they need to share the burden.

“Every year rent goes up 3 percent, and after 19 years, it gets to this point,” he said. “They want to increase rent again when it should be going down.”

Taitt said there has been a lot of interest in commercial locations in Goleta and that many locally owned businesses have renewed their leases.

“I would say that we’ve seen serious interest in that area, and we’re happy and confident that that trend will continue,” she said. “The worst is behind us, and there will be recovery in the marketplace.”

Lovelace, president of the local Merchants Association, said he has never seen as many vacancies in the shopping center. The most he could remember was four, and after Goleta Sports leaves there will be nine. The vacancies on State Street serve as another example. Although vacancy rates are gradually decreasing, the area saw uncharacteristically high rates during the past two years.

“I want to ask The Towbes Group, how many empty spaces do you need to have before you are going to start working with people?” Lovelace said, adding that it’s going to get worse before it gets better, and that small local businesses like his are going to suffer.

“It’s going to be a big-box environment,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize when they spend money at locally owned stores that stays in the community and may come back to them. But when you spend in a big-box, that goes out of town.”

The Internet hasn’t helped small business. Down the road, Lovelace said he expects shopping centers largely will be replaced by major warehouses that ship products ordered online because of low overhead.

Customer service will suffer as well, he said. Goleta Sports would offer to match any competitive price and would immediately resolve issues such as defective equipment.

“There’s a lot to be said about dealing with owners of a store,” Lovelace said. “It’s far more difficult to deal with someone making minimum wage who doesn’t have the authority to do anything.”

The relationships Lovelace created is what he says he will miss the most.

“There are numerous kids who we sold their first T-ball glove, and they would bring their kids kids in to get their first glove,” he said.

Lovelace said he is going to take a few weeks off and hasn’t decided what’s next.

“I’ve created a lot of great lifelong relationships,” he said. “It has been a good run, and it’s a shame it has to end due to a recession and Internet sales that have taken a toll.”

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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