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The world of sports equipment is not only seasonal but cyclical. As winter turns to spring, basketball and football give way to tennis and baseball and golf. But along the way, kids keep growing, and what fit perfectly last year ends up in the back of a closet. That is where Play It Again Sports comes in, enabling customers to exchange the old and acquire the next set of gear.
Mike Hamman, owner of the new franchise at 1908 Dempster St., often found himself in that situation, doing a fair amount of shopping for his son at the retail outlet in Northbrook. He was in a career transition after being a floor broker at the Mercantile Exchange for many years. It occurred to him that with all its leagues and programs, Evanston might be a great place to open a store for general sports merchandise.
He contacted Winmark, the parent company, and was impressed with their model for business start-ups. The corporation offered their expertise on every aspect of getting a new store off the ground and has special agreements with large suppliers like Wilson Sporting Goods and CCM hockey equipment.
“It took us a year to accumulate a used inventory from Craig’s List, garage and rummage sales,” he said. “It takes a lot of preparation.” They opened on Halloween weekend 2015. Since his only experience to date has been November through February, he could not say quite what would happen in the warmer months. But so far the women’s equipment has sold as well as the men’s.
Certain items have stood out. When Evanston flooded the rinks, there was a run on ice skates, and Play It Again was sharpening them seven hours a day. “For some reason, we have trouble keeping used bar bells and punching bags in the store,” he said. He said the latter might be related to the opening of a new boxing instruction venue on Main Street. Also popular, he said, are lacrosse and girl’s hockey.
Play It Again Sports is a candy store for the athletic minded, with its low prices and often dizzying array of choices. One might find anything from flavored mouth guards to goalie masks, an umpire kit to a Pilates ring. Unlike at other national chains, about half of the merchandise is secondhand.
The public is encouraged to bring in their old equipment to determine if the store can accept it for resale in return for cash or store credit. As is common practice, values placed on items brought in vary according to condition and their correspondence with beginner, journeyman and expert categories. A computer program sorts all of that out. When asked to name the most unusual goods he had purchased for resale so far, Mr. Hamman cited a unicycle and a circus bike – the kind with the ridiculously small wheels that clowns ride.
There was a time when sporting goods were pretty basic, but the market has grown increasingly sophisticated. Balls of all kinds have different sizes and compressions. Racquets and clubs and bats come in all different sizes and weights, allowing children to participate at younger ages and making play safer and more manageable for the many stages of development. One example is football helmets, which are now very specialized and must adhere to strict certification standards.
Mr. Hamman maintains connections with Evanston’s profusion of leagues, from American Youth Soccer Organization to Evanston Baseball and Softball Association, and noted that there is a range of facilities, like the dome that recently opened behind the Home Depot on Oakton Street. Mr. Hamman has a son currently playing hockey and baseball at Evanston Township High School, and he is also a long-standing member of the men’s hockey league at Robert Crown Center.
This will be Mr. Hamman’s fifth year of involvement with “buddyball,” which typically begins the first Sunday after Mother’s Day. The program is generally designed for kids with special needs, enabling them to play baseball with an adult or student “buddy” at each position. “Everyone should have a sport and just have fun with it,” Mr. Hamman said.
As the “again” in the store’s name suggests, the beloved mitts and pads and cleats of youth seldom occupy a big enough space in kids’ lives to truly get worn out. But instead of gathering dust or being pitched in a landfill, they can be passed on and become part of someone else’s dreams.