SageSport Sports and Outdoors, in the Forrest Oaks Shopping Center will be closing soon — but not because business is bad. Instead, the owner of the center is expelling the business from the location when the store’s lease expires next month.
Actually, the landlord is trying to force them out before then.
The store is billed on its website as “A Mount Airy Tradition since 1996” and has been at its present location since 2004 after a stint at Mayberry Mall.
“SageSport is going to be no longer,” said Corky Fulton, owner of the store. “Business is good and getting better. We’ve had growth almost every year since we’ve been here. But the landlord wants us out. The lease is up Aug. 15, and he wants us out by Aug. 1. He won’t talk to me about it. I thought, surely he’ll give me 30 days, but right now, I don’t know where I stand. I’ll be here as long as I can be here, but I just don’t know. I sent a check for August’s rent, but he never cashed it.”
Fulton opened the first SageSport in 1982. It was a 1,000 square foot store that sold Adidas, Puma and other popular brands of athletic footwear of the time.
“It grew with the growth of athletic footwear,” he said.
Fulton said his father was operating a department store in Kings Mountain, and when SageSport’s sales were more than his department store, he shut it down and opened a SageSport in Kings Mountain. Other stores followed in Gaffney, Gastonia, Forest City, Lincolnton, Statesville, Boone, Asheboro, Shelby and Mount Airy, along with Union, South Carolina. At its largest, there were eight stores open at once.
“We closed a few stores, and Asheboro, Boone and Mount Airy were left,” Fulton said. “In Asheboro, a big box store moved into the same mall I was in, and in Boone, the market changed, so now it’s just this store.”
“What attracted me to Mount Airy in 1996 is still here. Mount Airy is one of the few towns where a big portion of the businesses are self-reliant. Local people are the business owners. There aren’t even that many chain restaurants, except for fast food. I love that. I love the atmosphere. I love to talk to the customers. I want to be up here working. Folks here have received us and given us absolutely fantastic community support. But I’ve got a landlord with a burr under his bonnet.”
Repeated attempts to reach the property owner for comment on this story were not successful.
Fulton said he understands business, and if the property owner had a potential tenant whose margin would allow for a higher rent, he understood the landlord would prefer that tenant. But he did not understand the rush to get him out, and not giving him time to find another location and salvage his business.
“I’m still receiving merchandise for Back to School. Stuff is still coming in August and September,” said Fulton. “The bad news is that I had Nike merchandise booked out through March. They closed my account when I canceled those orders. Same with some of the other guys. There’s not going to be another chance. If I do find another location, they won’t re-open those accounts.”
Fulton said he’s looking into finding a temporary location to conduct a going-out-of-business sale to wind up SageSport’s affairs.
Before the lease dilemma developed at SageSport, Fulton was in the process of opening another store downtown. His new store, Fancy Gap Outfitters, will sell outdoor and casual clothing and accessories. The store will be located on North Main Street in the former location of Memories on Main. According to Fulton, the landlord at the Main Street location, Gene Rees, has doubled up crews to speed up the renovation to get him in sooner, but Fulton said it will still be mid-October.
“And there’s not enough room there for sporting goods,” he said. “That store was just supposed to be something extra. Now, it’s going to be my livelihood.”
Fulton addressed local rumors that sporting goods chain Hibbett was fleeing the beleaguered Mayberry Mall and would be taking over his location.
“I know the top brass at Hibbett, and they’ve told me they don’t have a deal. And if they don’t have a deal, what’s the rush? That’s not to say another store doesn’t have a deal. I don’t know. But if it does end up being Hibbett, they would bend over backward to let us stay until we could get out without it killing us. They couldn’t get in in time for back to school, and there’s time to let us finish up and still be in place for Christmas.”
The manager of the local Hibbetts store, Brandon Holmes, said of the store leaving Mayberry Mall, “There are rumors out there, but you’d have to talk to the corporate office.
Attempts to reach a spokesperson at Hibbitt’s corporate office were unsuccessful.
“In the stupid world I live in, I can’t believe this guy won’t talk to me. He’s not just moving us out, he’s doing it in the meanest way possible. In the meantime, we have to get out of here,” said Fulton, as he headed back out to the sales floor packed with shoppers scavenging bargains from the final remains of a business that has been his life’s work for 36 years.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.