Downtown Honus Wagner store has finally struck out
A sporting goods fixture for 93 years
January 5, 2011 10:00 AM
The Honus Wagner Sporting Goods store on Forbes Avenue is closing after 93 years in business Downtown.
By Mark Belko Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
First it was Gimbels, then Joseph Horne, Kaufmann's and Candy-Rama. Now another iconic Pittsburgh retailer is preparing to fade from the scene.
After 93 years Downtown, Honus Wagner Co. sporting goods store plans to close its doors permanently within the next six weeks after a going-out-of-business sale.
Harriet Shapiro, who co-owns the store with her husband, Murray, said Tuesday that the family, after four generations of ownership, simply had no one left to take over the reins.
"We're very sad to see it go. It's been a Pittsburgh landmark for so many years," she said.
While word of the closing filtered out Tuesday, the clock has been ticking on the store for some time. In 2009, Point Park University reached an agreement with the owners on an option to purchase the property as part of its plan to move the Pittsburgh Playhouse Downtown.
Under terms of the agreement, the university had the right to take over the property once the Shapiros vacate it or in four years, whichever came first.
Mrs. Shapiro said she and her husband had considered selling the store but were unable to find anyone with an interest in purchasing it.
She said the store was not closing because of poor business.
"Absolutely not," she declared. "It's a closing sale. It's not a desperation sale or a bankruptcy sale or anything like that."
Opened in 1918 by the legendary Honus Wagner, the Hall of Fame shortstop for the Pirates, the store has been a sports fans oasis Downtown for decades, jam-packed to the rafters with jerseys, jackets, T-shirts, tennis shoes and other merchandise.
At one time, the store also supplied uniforms for the Pittsburgh Pirates as well as semipro and high school teams in the region.
The Shapiros purchased the store from Mr. Wagner about 1928. The shop first was housed on Liberty Avenue but moved to its current location on Forbes Avenue nearly 60 years ago.
On Tuesday, the store with the black-and-gold awning and sign (what else?) was closed for inventory, but will reopen today for its final days.
Patrons were saddened to hear about its demise.
Ron Gruendl, spokesman for BNY Mellon Downtown, said he still had a Frank Robinson model baseball bat he bought at the store in the mid-1960s.
"For many people who grew up and came into the city during the baby boom era, we're losing part of our childhood," he said. "Before there was Dick's [Sporting Goods], before there was anything, it was Honus Wagner. Honus Wagner and Chatham Sports, those were the places."
David Vance, a former Pittsburgher who now lives in Hudson, Quebec, just outside of Montreal, remembers driving to the store with a friend to pick up their first Little League uniforms.
"Along with standing out in the right field [seats] section of Forbes Field hoping to catch a home run and see [Roberto] Clemente up close, that visit to Honus Wagner was a cherished memory of my youth. It will be missed," he wrote in an e-mail.
The closing likely will be a boost for Ace Athletic, a sporting goods store that opened on Forbes a short distance from Honus Wagner in September. Manager Tim Piett, however, found no joy Tuesday in knowing that the old store was closing.
"I worked there 27 years," he said. "I was very close to the family. They're very good people."
The store will eventually be reborn as a performing arts center. Point Park intends to use it and several adjacent properties it owns to relocate the Pittsburgh Playhouse from Oakland to Downtown. The new complex would feature three theaters ranging from 150 to 500 seats each, production and teaching areas, a residence hall and retail space.
University spokeswoman Mary Ellen Solomon said the move wouldn't occur until the second phase of the school's academic village initiative Downtown and that that was still "several years down the road."
For some, though, the promise of new development did little to soothe the pain of seeing another local landmark disappear.
"It's sad. It's a long-standing store in Pittsburgh. Downtown is getting empty," said Brenda Lane of Scott, who stopped at the store Tuesday, hoping to purchase a Winter Classic T-shirt. "All our retail places are going by the wayside."