Sport Chalet started in 1959 when German immigrants Norbert and Irene Olberz bought a tiny La Cañada Flintridge ski shop, which they built into a publicly traded retailer with more than 50 locations.
On Saturday, the struggling sporting goods chain began going-out-of-business sales at its 47 stores and closed its online sales operation.
“We’re closing. Thank you for 57 great years,” Sport Chalet told customers in an email message.
Sport Chalet said it would continue to honor gift cards and loyalty rewards, but an internal memo obtained by The Times set a cutoff date of April 29. No closing date for the stores was given; the memo said “several weeks.”
The chain has 40 stores in California, mainly in the Southland, according to the website. It also operates five stores in Arizona and two in Las Vegas. The company didn’t say how many people would be losing their jobs, but as of March 30, 2014, the chain employed 1,200 full-time workers and 1,600 part-timers.
At the Sport Chalet in downtown Los Angeles, the signs in windows of the black-and-white facade told of the chain’s fate. “Everything must go,” they stated. “All Sales are Final No Returns.”
“This store is going to really be missed. The others will, too,” said Marlon Tolbert of Los Angeles, a regular Sport Chalet shopper who works downtown. “I didn’t buy anything today, but I’m a big sports fan and like to come in and just look around.”
When told of the pending closure, Cindy Vasquez of La Cañada Flintridge, a runner, said, “I’m kind of bummed. I had no idea. Now where am I going to go? I’m not a big fan of other sporting goods stores.”
Rumors had been circulating for weeks that Vestis or Sport Chalet might file for bankruptcy protection and that the chain was about to shut down. Vestis representatives would say only that the company, which owns two other sporting-goods chains concentrated in the eastern U.S., was evaluating its options.
A spokesman for Vestis and Sport Chalet declined to comment Saturday beyond the online statement.
In the internal memo, Vestis Chief Executive Mark Walsh said Sport Chalet and another chain, Eastern Mountain Sports, had been on the verge of liquidation when Vestis bought them. Eastern Mountain Sports regained its footing, but Sport Chalet didn’t, “due, in part, to unique competitive pressures.”
Sport Chalet has struggled financially for years, last reporting an annual profit in 2007. Sport Chalet had more than $52 million in debt when Vestis bought it for $17 million.
The chain has faced growing competition from online retailers, discounters and the likes of Target Corp., whose stores carry the kind of workout merchandise and sports equipment that might interest the casual enthusiast.
Vestis, which is owned by Philadelphia-based Versa Capital Management, also operates Bob’s Stores on the East Coast. Customers will be allowed to use Sport Chalet gift cards and rewards on its other sporting good chains’ e-commerce sites, Vestis said.
Other sports retailers also have faced problems understanding the changing marketplace and fending off competitors.
In March, the much larger Sports Authority chain filed for bankruptcy protection, with plans to close 140 of it 463 stores. Nineteen of the locations to be closed are in California.
For more business news, follow Nancy Rivera Brooks on Twitter: @NRiveraBrooksLA
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