Holyoke Sporting Goods thrives at 95

A visit to Holyoke Sporting Goods feels like a home run: customers always score for the best service and prices.

Holyoke Sporting Goods is owned and operated by Betsy Frey. It is located at 1584 Dwight St. in Paper City. This 95 year old company supplies branded sporting goods to local teams, schools, organizations and individuals.

“Holyoke is a great place and people are really supporting us,” Frey said.

The business was founded by James Cleary in 1928 and when he died in 1954, Frey’s father, Ernest Brunault, bought the business.

Frey worked in the store while she was in college but then went back to school to pursue a master’s degree in business administration from Western New England University, got married, bought a house and by then it was time for her father to retire.

“It made sense for me to buy the company and continue its legacy in Holyoke,” she explained.

Holyoke-Betsy Frey of Holyoke Sporting Goods on Dwight Street in Holyoke. The store is celebrating its 95th anniversary. (Photo by Dave Roback) 2023

Now, 28 years later, Frey Holyoke is keeping Sporting Goods thriving in this post-pandemic age of online shopping and internet price scrutiny. She moved the store from its original location in downtown Holyoke to its current location off Interstate 91, which has ample parking.

“People assume that big stores get the best prices, and that’s not always true,” Frey said. “I know Holyoke and I sell for less and give my customers a solid, old-fashioned personal service.”

Frey estimates that 50% of shoppers visit her store for a jacket, sweatshirt or hat from Holyoke, South Hadley or Easthampton, or for new football boots or sneakers. The other half of their customers buy league, high school, elementary school merchandise, baseball, softball, basketball, and soccer equipment, and corporate apparel.

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Holyoke Sporting Goods is also a member of Sports, Inc., a national purchasing group dedicated to helping independent sporting goods retailers grow and thrive.

Some of the various athletic shoes on display at the Holyoke Sporting Goods on Dwight Street in Holyoke. The store is celebrating its 95th anniversary. (Dave Roback photo)

“There are several stores like mine that go together, and when we do our shopping together it gives us an impact like a big store,” she explained.

Frey said she once thought exercise was “recession-proof” as kids are always growing and continue to need new sportswear and gear, but once the pandemic hit, that perspective changed.

“The pandemic was devastating and came at the worst time of the year,” Frey said. “I’m selling a lot for the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade and it was canceled and I had everything set up for baseball and softball.

“I’ve never heard of school sports being canceled,” she added. “You never know what’s in store for you and you have to be willing to change course.”

Although Frey had to close her doors for about three months, from March to June 2020 with a store full of goods, she still went to work every day.

“It was lonely,” she said. “Every day I called customers from my address book to keep in touch.”

Holyoke Sporting Goods survived the pandemic thanks to its online apparel ordering component for schools and teams, and it offered curbside pickup.

Holyoke-Holyoke High clothing is on display at the Holyoke Sporting Goods on Dwight Street in Holyoke. The store is celebrating its 95th anniversary. (Photo by Dave Roback) 2023

Additionally, Frey was the beneficiary of an unexpected grant for which Frey will forever be grateful. She said she will be grateful too.

The Marketing Doctor agency in Northampton offered a grant to help small businesses with a rebranding and advertising campaign amid supply chain and pandemic-related issues. Frey applied and never thought she would get it.

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“After many months of interviewing and preparing documents, I found out that we received the grant and it helped us tremendously,” she said.

The Marketing Doctor team helped Frey get the business back to where it was before the pandemic. Efforts included redesigning their website, creating a commercial and new logo, advertising on TV and radio, and social media support.

“They helped me for a year,” Frey said. “Your team was so responsive and very nice, and I felt like they cared about my ideas. It’s amazing what advertising can do. I’ve had clients I haven’t seen in years.”

Frey is happy to be out of the pandemic and says she enjoys interacting with her clients on a daily basis. “I have so many great memories and amazing connections in the community,” she said.

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