A Champions’ Goodbye: Owner Of Belmont’s Iconic Sports Store Retiring After 35 Years

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.

Gerry Dickhaut, owner of Champions Sporting Goods

“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.

Letter to the Editor: Online Donations to Help a ‘Great Community Partner’

To the editor:
Several weeks ago, Gerry Dickhault, proprietor of Champions Sporting Goods in Belmont Center, lost his home to a fire and is now living in a temporary home while his house is being renovated. David High, a generous and caring member of the Belmont community, created a crowd-funding site to help people to donate online to help Gerry out at this time.
We welcome donations of any size to help Gerry rebuild his life. He has been a great partner to this community; donates to many fundraising efforts; and invites anyone and everyone to use his store as a cut-through to Belmont Center.
Let us now return the favor and help him out in his time of need.
Erin Lubien

Letter to the Editor: Thanks, Everyone – Gerry

To the editor:

My house caught on fire Oct  21, at 7 a.m. According to the fire marshall, the fire was caused by an old fan that ignited while running in the basement as I was trying to dry out my rug that was wet due to a burst water heater the day before.

I thought I could put it out, as I ran back downstairs the second time with a bucket of water the fire was blazing and had consumed my couch, the wall and was burning on the ceiling. I decided to just get out! I was very lucky!

I ran upstairs, called 911 and then ran out the door with only the clothes on my back.

Since then, I have been overwhelmed by kindness and generosity by the Belmont community. Everyone from past and present employees, all the town sport leagues and great customers have offered to help.

My house has been gutted and everything has been thrown out as the soot from the fire gets into everything. After living in a hotel for 10 days, I’ve moved into a mobile home on my front lawn for the next five months while repairs are being done. The donations have gone to purchase new clothes, towels, blankets, dishes, sheets, pillows, shoes, food and much more.

I wanted to thank everyone who kept me in their prayers, stopped by to give me a hug, dropped off blankets, made me dinner and asked if they could do anything for me and for the generous donations. What a great community!

Please take the time to check your smoke detectors to make sure they’re working properly,

Thanks so much,

Gerry Dickhaut

Champions Sporting Goods

Belmont Center

Benefit Provides A Shoe Box Full of Hope for Gerry

Anne Marie Picone came straight from her second job to Conley’s Pub and Grille on the Watertown side of Belmont Street.

The Belmont resident wasn’t there to watch Monday Night Football or grab a beer.

She came for Gerry.

“My first job ever was working at CVS (in Belmont Center) so I always cut through Champions. I’d always see Gerry and he was absolutely fantastic,” said Picone, describing Gerry Dickhaut, the long-time owner of Champions Sports Goods on Leonard Street.

So when she heard on Facebook Monday that Dickhaut had lost his house to an electrical fire last week, she immediately decided to stop by a benefit Dickhaut’s friends quickly assembled at Conley’s.

“I wanted to make sure I got to donate. Gerry’s a great guy,” she said.

Picone was just one of hundreds of residents, fellow business owners and people who Dickhaut got to know over the years who stopped by to place a donation into an athletic shoe box near the pub’s entry.

Tim Graham, who along with Andrew McLaughlin organized the benefit, opened the box to show it  jam-packed with gift cards, checks, packages and cash, all for a man that many are calling a community asset.

“The turn out was absolutely amazing. It’s a Monday night and the place was packed all evening. The generosity was stunning,” said Graham.

According to residents, the money will go to help Dickhaut replace household and personal items destroyed in the fire as well as help pay for living arrangements for the next five months while the house is being restored.

Graham, who like so many other young people worked for Dickhaut while he was at Belmont High School and after college, said he heard a few days ago of Dickhaut’s misfortune “and Gerry is an amazing man who has done so much in the community that we just wanted to do something, anything for him.”

Graham said he couldn’t even make a “guest-imate” of the total contributed, “but I have seen some of the amounts that people have donated and it really is overwhelming.”

“I’m sure Gerry will be blown away. While he’s a very generous person, he’s also quite private so he might feel a bit awkward accepting this. But he’ll be amazed that so many people are thinking of him,” said Graham.

Helping Gerry: Benefit Tonight for Belmont Business Owner in Need

It’s where your swimmer selected their first goggles and “racing” suit for the Belmont Aquatic Team. Your children’s hockey and figure skates are sharpened downstairs. The beginner’s lacrosse set, soccer cleats size children’s 4 and gloves and bats for minor league youth baseball players were all bought there.

If you’re from Belmont, you got them at Champions Sports Goods in Belmont Center.

And it’s not just a place to outfit your kids: where else can you obtain a “Belmont” cap and T-shirt, a box of baseballs, running shoes and a million other sporting goods? It’s where generations of high schoolers worked their first job, a place to pick up tickets for Belmont High theater productions and the store of the Lucky-size Sneaker Sale.
And who hasn’t used the store as the “official thru way” from the municipal parking lot to Leonard Street?

Champions is not just a sporting goods store but a community amenity; a service and benefit to residents that is becoming an anomaly in the world of retail.

And the face of Champions is Gerry Dickhaut. Easy going, affirmable and a little bit funny, Dickhaut is the business, opening the store in 1988 in his parent’s hometown. He patiently advises customers on the most appropriate equipment, knows where the most obscure items are located and will just stand by the cash register and talk with you about his love of golf – he shots in the 70s on a good day – until a customer comes in.

As president of the Belmont Center Business Association, he fosters events such as Belmont Town Day, Midnight Madness Sales and Belmont Turn on the Town and promotes locally-owned businesses because, as he is fond to point out, two-thirds of every dollar spent at an independent-owned store stays in the local community as opposed to a quarter for national chains.

Last week, Dickhaut lost his home to an electrical fire.

Dickhaut’s friends throughout Belmont have organized a benefit tonight, Monday, Nov.3 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Belmont’s favorite hangout, Conley’s Pub & Grille in Watertown at 164 Belmont St.

Gift card donations (Visa/Mastercard) are welcomed. Every donation will make a difference. In addition, a web donation site is being organized by Belmont Second Soccer.