Harper Sport Shop closing after more than 60 years

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published July 23, 2014

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — When it first opened in 1947, Harper Sport Shop was at Harper Avenue and Cadieux in Detroit.

Catering to any athletic need a high school student would have, the nearly 67-year-old store moved to its current location at 23208 Greater Mack Ave. in St. Clair Shores in 1994.

“My grandfather, Les, opened the store (with) my grandma, Kay,” in November of 1947, said Mark Seppala, 32, who now owns the store with his 35-year-old brother, Mike. “Really, the thing that we prided ourselves on has been having a knowledgeable staff and providing customer service that you just can’t get at other places.”

But at the end of the month, Harper Sport Shop will close its doors for the final time.

“There’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Seppala said. “The last several years, our sales have gone down and (costs) have gone up, and people’s buying patterns change. It wasn’t just one thing that led to this.”

He explained that they have had trouble bringing in certain products because big manufacturers don’t always want to deal with “small vendors like us.” Also, a large part of the business has always been outfitting school teams, and those purchases have been declining, as well.

“The schools have less money, so instead of buying a new set of jerseys every year, it’s now like (every) three or four (years), so that has also hurt,” Seppala said. “This was not something that we just decided overnight.”

He said they have been overwhelmed by the support from the community after the closing was announced. Harper Sport Shop’s last day is July 31.

“We’ve had scores of people coming in that (had) memories of getting their first ball glove,” he said. “People that are grown now that remember coming in with their parents or grandparents, now they’re coming in with their kids.

“We’re one of those places that people generally have fond memories of growing up, and now everyone’s kind of bummed out that it’s coming to an end.”

Debbe Defever, of Grosse Pointe, said she used to shop often at Harper Sport Shop for her kids, who are now 37 and 35 years old.

“Been doing this a long time now. I can’t believe the store’s closing,” she said July 14. “It’s too bad to see a neighborhood store go.”

Defever said she appreciated the personal attention at the store.

“You saw the same faces over and over, kind of a family thing,” she said.

Kyle Metry, of St. Clair Shores, was in the shop trying on shoes before all of the stock was gone. She said her family has been coming there for decades, though.

“My husband was taken to the old one when he was young,” she said, explaining that they always brought their children to the store to be outfitted for high school sports, as well.

“Everybody was so helpful. I liked the small, family-run store. It’s going to be sad.”

Seppala said there was little choice.

“After trying for, really, years to kind of bail out a sinking ship and try new things to try to expand our reach and try to find new customers … it kind of just got to the point where it’s not turning around. It’s unfortunate that it’s had to come to this, but we really don’t have a choice,” he said.

He said it was difficult news to have to break to employees, some of whom have worked at the store longer than Seppala has been around, he said.

“That’s our family,” he said. “It’s not like we’ve ever had a backup plan, so we’ll see what happens.”

Until then, he said they’re inviting customers back for a close-out sale and to just say good-bye.

“It’s been pretty incredible for us to be able to watch kids that came in for their first pair of skates that are now growing up and going off to play college hockey,” he said. “You remember them from when they were running around and hiding in the racks, and now it’s like, ‘Wow. These guys are going to make it.’

“That’s something for us here, that it’s tough to say goodbye to stuff like that.”

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