Photo: Gerry Dickhaut, owner of Champions Sporting Goods in Belmont Center
For the past 35 years, Belmont’s sports universe has revolved around a small elongated storefront smack in the Center. Need your child’s first hockey equipment? How about a lacrosse stick? A bag of Little League baseballs? Swimming goggles? A sweatshirt with “BELMONT” stitched across the chest? Skates sharpened? Tickets for the spring musical? You’ll find it there.
And there you’ll find the proprietor of Champions Sporting Goods on Leonard Street Gerry Dickhaut. And make no mistake, Gerry is the business. He’s taking inventory, finding the correct size soccer cleat, sharpening the skates, stocking the youth team’s uniforms, and sending his teenage employees to Rancs for ice cream.
Gerry has been the most ardent supporter of the Center and its businesses, president of the business association, runs the annual spring Town Day (Champions is the official sponsor of the dunk tank), and knows all the best gossip on Leonard Street.
But as with all good things, Gerry will soon bid a fond “adieu” to his business home for four decades as he’s retiring.
“October 8, 1988. That’s when I opened the doors, 35 years this year. I think I can say I deserve to retire,” said Dickhaut behind the cramped counter in his shop at 53 Leonard St.
“I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been very lucky,” said Dickhaut, interrupting the interview to help a young father pick out socks for his son.
Gerry’s Champions, one of the increasingly rare independent sporting goods outlets in the US, harkens back to when the Center was the town’s business hub with a Filene’s, a supermarket, a specialty fish monger, an Italian market, a florist, and the century-old local bank. To stay afloat and remain profitable – it’s made money since the third year in operation – as small businesses are desimated by large box store and internet sales, three recessions and a devistating pandemic is remarkable.
“My success has everything to do with the loyality of the people in town and the youth leagues. They come back time and time again. You can’t ask for anything more,” he said.
Besides selling sporting goods, Gerry has offered generations of Belmont High School students and alumni their first job in the store. Melis Demirtas, a highly proficiant kickboxer and high school rugby player, is one of many who lug new shipments here and there and helping customers putting shoes on kindergarteners.
“Gerry, he’s great,” Demirtas said.
Gerry said he was going to retire last year but was convinced by his landlord to “stay just one more year.”
“They gave me a break when I first opened the doors. They took a chance on me,” said Dickhaut.
The rumor that Gerry was ready to move on has been circulating among parents and league officials for a couple of months with many expressing their sadness to Gerry as some considered pooling funds and purchasing the business.
“I’m humbled and flattered that they see me as a [community asset.] And it goes both ways, I appreciate that they are loyal customers,” he said.
Knowing how the residents regard the store, Gerry has been working with a Belmont resident who is “interested” to buy and continue to run the business at its location. The possible buyer is, ironically, a former employee of Amazon – a scurge of small businsses – who has been working in the store to learn the ropes. The interested person is seeking a partner or a manager to run the store as the hours are quite considerable.
Gerry said there are others interested in running the shop, “and they’re all from Belmont.”
As for Gerry, he has some idea what he’ll be doing after he hands the keys over to the next owner.
“I want to go to London. I was there for two days once and it was fabulous. I want to go to Italy and get a real pizza. Then I want to go to Asia especially Bali, that part of the world. And also tour America. There are just so many beautiful spots in the country,” said Dickhaut.
But Gerry said he will be around to help the new owner “if they want me here.” But soon the golf enthusiast will be looking to the south for a place to hang up his clubs.
“I can’t handle the cold weather anymore. Really. It’s depressing, you’re always stuck inside,” said Gerry with an eye on someplace in Florida, around Pheonix or San Diego. A place with a golf course nearby.