Ely Times Staff Writer
Sportsworld had only been in its current building for a few years when one of the mines had a major layoff. The store’s General Manager Susan Keough remembers a specific conversation with one of the miners who had just lost his job.
“He said ‘I just lost my job. Nothing I can do, I’m going to go fishing. It’s the only thing that makes me feel good,’” Keough said.
It’s just one of many stories Keough and her staff over at Sportsworld have heard through the years. Sometimes it’s a grandfather taking grandchildren out fishing for their first time. Other times it’s just a kid coming in to buy a basketball to take his mind off things. The circumstances are never the same, but the deeper message underneath is.
“Whether it is good times or bad times, people still come in,” she said. “They need to have something to look forward to. They have to have sports.”
With Ely’s abundance of possible outdoor activities, Keough said her store essential trades in “fun.” Everything from hunting and camping equipment, to fishing, biking and competitive sporting goods are all sold out of Sportsworld. But it isn’t the equipment that makes the store thrive.
“It’s the people that make this successful,” Keough said. “It’s the people that come in here that want to tell their stories.”
Keough has been working for Sportsworld for more than 30 years, and has been in Ely for even longer. In that time, she has watched the store evolve. Sportsworld started as The Family Store, a general store in the 90s where miners and workers could share a drink after a long day before picking up some groceries.
Keough said the Bath family, who owns Sportsworld, said when they branched out to do just sporting goods, they wanted to keep that same atmosphere.
“When I first came to Sportsworld in 1990, they had a potbelly stove with a bunch of chairs,” she said. “The guys would come in and tell their fishing stories and their hunting stories and all that. They would sit down, still open up a beer and talk. It was that type of atmosphere.”
Since then, the business has changed. There isn’t a fireplace to sit around anymore, but Keough thinks that culture of storytelling, of a shared communal experience through sport has never left the store.
“We have the newsletter,” she said. “We want to hear what their stories are.”
A trophy board displays the spoils of successful fishing and hunting trips, and Sportsworld has even moved the fireside discussions online with a Facebook page where people can submit pictures of their hunts. Keough said the things that she hears “amaze” her and knowing that the variety of equipment Sportsworld sells that enable those kind of stories to happen is what keeps her excited about her work.
“It’s more than just a store, it’s an experience. That’s really rewarding.”