JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Since 1982, The Soccer Stop has been a mecca for soccer enthusiasts buying their gear. But now, the locally-owned retailer at 13799 Beach Boulevard is winding down.
"It's been a great asset to the community, and we're just so sad that they're closing," Terri Navas told First Coast News while perusing the store she's shopped with her 21-year-old son Chase for two-thirds of his life.
"We've been coming here since 2003, when we moved to the beaches area," Navas added.
Owners Mike and Barbara Levine are closing the business, a decision they say was forced by mega-brand Nike abruptly ending its relationship with them.
"Basically, without Nike, we can't make it as a store," Mike began.
It all started, he says, when Nike and other brands began altering their distribution methods.
"Most of them now are going to a distribution model where they produce, they ship, and they're not warehousing, and they're looking for the stores to warehouse their product," Mike detailed. "So, they're looking for people to warehouse hundreds of thousands of dollars of inventory, where people our size have tens of thousands."
Indeed, one look at the size of the store makes it clear that there's simply not much space, even in back, to store their merchandise. Mike says the paradigm shift can be measured in years, but it's only recently that Nike changed its tone with his wife and him, despite the relationship growing seventy-five percent in just the last four years.
"We just quit hearing from them in December," Mike explained, pointing out that a quarterly sales meeting has been business-as-usual for all 35 years. Then, they were told, a new Nike representative had been assigned to their account.
"[We] tried to contact the new sales rep. No phone calls back. Tried to contact the director of soccer specialty marketing, and never heard back from them."
The runaround continued until mid-February, when Mike and Barbara reached out directly to Nike's CEO, and finally, a short time later, they got clear notification - via email - that the shoe brand was severing ties with The Soccer Stop.
"It was frustrating. You would think a company that big would be more professional about how they're handling situations like this," Mike lamented. "It's been a labor of love as much as it's been a retail endeavor, and after thirty-five years, to have someone tell you can't do it anymore, that's not a good feeling."
Soccer moms and dads at Losco Park in Jacksonville echoed their sorrow about what's happening at The Soccer Stop, and what it seems to portend for locally-owned small businesses of all types.
"It is very unfortunate because we need to support small businesses. There is no way we can compete with corporate like Nike, or those big kind of stores like Dicks," said Maria Rivera while watching her son play.
Raj Goswami agreed that the trend could be bad for consumers.
"Absolutely, yes, it would, I think [the industry] would become less competitive," he said.
Even a young player like teen Chrystian Gamboa, who has shopped at larger stores like the new "We Got Soccer" on Philips Highway - as well as online - shook his head at the trend.
"It's kind of hard for another store to compete when they're really not getting a lot of inventory coming in."
The Soccer Stop plans to close on Memorial Day weekend.