Tim Woodward

Brothers keep treasure trove alive at Idaho Sporting Goods – but not for much longer

The Capital City Development Corporation didn’t just get a valuable downtown property when it purchased the Idaho Sporting Goods building last winter. The store at the corner of 10th and State streets is a treasure trove of sports history.

From high school athletics to scuba diving to Boise State University football, it’s been indispensable to athletes in Idaho and beyond since the year Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. It isn’t just an Idaho sporting goods store. It’s an Idaho icon.

The sale augurs the end of an era, with the store likely to close in the next year or two.

For more than 60 years it’s been partially or wholly owned and operated by the family of the late Hugh Brady, who went to work there in 1954 as a salesman, making $600 a month. Three years later, he became a partner in the business. Twelve years after that, he bought out his partner, Jack Kimmel, and became the sole owner. As many as four generations of Bradys have worked in the store at the same time.

The Bradys haven’t just sold sporting goods. They’ve had their share of athletes in the family as well. Tim Brady played on the BSU football team that defeated Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, considered by many to be one of the best college football games ever. Cory Brady played football for The College of Idaho and is an All-American lacrosse player there.

These days, Hugh’s sons Nick and Pat are keeping the family tradition alive in the business. (Tim, their brother, recently retired.) The Bradys sold the building to BSN Sports in 2016 but are still actively involved in its operation – as they have been almost their entire lives.

Pat, 66, worked part time in shipping and receiving at the store when he was in high school. Nick, 55, started when he was 12, making trophies.

“We practically grew up in the store,” Nick said. “Dad would bring us down here on Sundays when we were little kids. We’d play in the windows, pretending like we were mannequins. We pretended like we had little motors that made us swing golf clubs. People driving by in their cars would stop and stare at us.”

The memory made both brothers laugh. It’s obvious in talking to them that the store hasn’t just been their business. It’s been a source of family pride, and stories, for more than 60 years.

“We used to sell tickets to the Boise-Borah football game when it was just about the biggest thing around,” Nick said. “People would line up outside the store early in the morning to buy tickets. You could say that Idaho Sporting Goods grew up with the city.

“… Dad told me we used to get robbed a lot back in the days when we sold guns for hunting. People would break the windows, grab the guns and head for the hills. Dad’s response to that was simple. He took out the windows.”

Customers through the years have included some pretty big names in the sports world – NFL greats Jerry Kramer and Fred Biletnikoff, BSU head football coaches from Lyle Smith on, Major League Baseball star Bill Buckner and others.

The store has provided jobs for countless young people, who not only learned a lot working there but had fun doing it. I know that firsthand because I spent a winter as one of the store’s ski shop repairmen before leaving for active duty in the Navy. The Bradys and then co-owner Jack Kimmel made their employees feel like part of an extended family. There were holiday parties, backyard barbecues. Everyone worked hard, but had fun doing it.

Business adjustments

The business has changed a lot through the years. The skis, among other things, are long gone.

“When I was growing up, we were one of only two places where you could buy skis in Boise,” Nick said. “It was just us and Sib Kleffner’s (also long gone). Then Greenwood’s Ski Haus opened. Bob Greenwood had been Dad’s ski manager.

“We dropped skis in the mid-80s. We had lots inventory in skis and boots and poles and apparel, and no snow one year. That’s when Dad decided to get out of the ski business. You can’t sell the stuff the next year because the technology changes every year.”

Ski equipment was but a small part of the store’s retail offerings. At one time or another it has sold hunting and fishing equipment, hunting and fishing licenses, equipment and apparel for football, baseball, basketball, golf, bowling, ice hockey, tennis, scuba diving …

“We had everything,” Pat said.

The retail business faded with the coming of national sports retailers. Now and throughout most of its history, the store’s mainstay has been team sports equipment and uniforms for schools.

Lots of schools.

They’re in northern Nevada and eastern Oregon, and in Idaho as far north as Moscow. If you attend a junior high school or high school game there, chances are the uniforms the players are wearing and the equipment they’re using came from Idaho Sporting Goods. They also sell physical education equipment to elementary schools.

“We’ve sold everything they need for every sport,” Pat said. “Helmets, shoulder pads, bats and balls, basketballs, volleyballs, track equipment, shoes … It used to be just the boys’ sports, but when girls’ sports came on the scene in about 1975 we started selling equipment and uniforms for the girls, too.”

They don’t actually make the uniforms. They’re ordered from manufacturers, as are letterman jackets. The store has sold thousands of those. You might have one hanging in your closet. The names and team logos that personalize them are done in an upstairs embroidery shop, a few steps from the space where I learned to mount bindings and repair gashes in ski bottoms. It takes two hours and thousands of stitches to do the embroidery on a jacket.

“My letterman jacket cost about $40,” Pat said. “Now they’re about $200. With embroidered logos, they can be up to $300.”

A display in the store features logos of most of the high schools in Idaho — Braves, Lions, Eagles, Kavemen, Knights, Wolves, Pirates, Pilgrims, Trojans, Grizzlies …

Idaho Sporting Goods sells to colleges and universities as well, including C of I, Idaho State University, College of Southern Idaho, Northwest Nazarene College and Treasure Valley Community College.

It used to sell uniforms to a local school that has made something of a name for itself in football, first as Boise Junior College and ultimately as Boise State University.

“We sold uniforms to Boise State from the early days through the Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins eras,” Pat said. “Once the football team cracked the top 20, Nike took over. Nike gives the big-name teams their uniforms for free or for a hellaciously good deal. We couldn’t compete with that.”

Looking ahead

The Bradys will stay on at the store until it closes.

“We don’t know what will happen to the building,” Nick said. “That’s up to the CCDC. It could be torn down or incorporated into something else.”

“We hope it goes to the YMCA (just across State Street),” Pat said. “They need the space.”

Selling the store, he said, “was emotional. It’s all we’ve ever known.”

“It made sense, though,” his brother added. “None of our kids were going into the business, so after going back and forth for a couple of years, we decided this was the way to go. And it’s worked out great.”

What sports do the guys who have sold sporting goods all their lives enjoy? Pat likes to fish; Nick is a golfer.

But for as long as they can, they’ll continue to show up for work at the store that has meant so much to so many.

“Retire?” Nick said. “We’ll retire when we get old.”

Tim Woodward’s column appears monthly in the Idaho Statesman and on woodwardblog.com. Know someone with an interesting story for him? Contact him at woodwardcolumn@ hotmail.com.