Marc Secontine smiles as he recalls the day when, as a thirteen-year-old, he rode his bike through his Birmingham neighborhood’s streets toward his father’s then-downtown Birmingham store, The Varsity Shop.
“My dad had said, ‘Come on up, and I’ll buy you lunch!’ When I arrived, there were 150 cases of Adidas shoes for me to put away. By the time I’d finished, lunch turned out to be dinner, and my visit to the shop turned out to be a life-long career!”
Vince Secontine, Jr., started the shop in 1954, after retiring, at age 33, from teaching and coaching varsity football at Birmingham High School. Vince, who was also a former football player at the University of Michigan, created The Varsity Shop because he felt “southeastern Michigan needed a quality sporting goods store that provided both competitive prices and outstanding customer service.”
“And we’ve been able to continue those ideals for the past 64 years,” says Marc, who is the store’s managing partner, “and through our 2014 move to our current location at 623 South Adams, at Birmingham’s Adams Square Mall.”
When a boiler pipe broke in their building’s original location at Pierce and Merrill, where they’d been for 61 years, the family owners had planned to repair and reopen.
“But unexpected environmental factors and the costs of meeting ADA compliance prohibited the renovations,” Marc explains, “so we sold the building and have remained here at Adams Square.”
“We miss being downtown in our older, historic building,” Marc says, “but the parking situation is so much better here. Also, downtown shopping has changed. Instead of being leisurely, people now are ‘destination shopping,’ and our place is perfect for that.”
And, when former business neighbor and the owner of 220 Merrill offered Marc their wooden main door after their own re-construction project, the new location of The Varsity Shop was able to add and project a bit more of their former character.
“We’ve got lots of wood inside the store, too,” says Marc, “and locker room lights.”
“Sometimes I think of it this way: The old location was our Tiger Stadium, with its creaky basement, etc. And this new location is our Comerica Park. But my Dad would flip if he knew we had a big-screen T.V.!”
The store is divided into four main sections: High school products (varsity jackets; school sweatshirts, t-shirts, hats and caps, etc.), swimming wear and gear, college logo items, and a section for baseball and softball equipment and accessories.
“We have a family trade secret of breaking in baseball gloves, free with purchase. People from all over the country send us their gloves to break in, which takes two days and costs fifteen dollars.”
“We also have an in-store ‘home plate,’ where we can help analyze a player’s swing and size them for the proper bat,” says Marc who, as a former player, has a passion for baseball.
“One of our most important products,” Marc shares, “is our selection of Fox River socks. They have two different layers and wick moisture away. We ship them all over the country.”
“Towards the end of my dad’s life,” Marc continues, “my siblings and I were lucky to take turns spending evenings with him. One night, while my dad and I were watching a movie, he said, out of the blue and in his tough-coach way, ‘Hey! You’d better have those Fox River socks stocked on the counter!’”
“I looked at him and said, ‘Dad! You haven’t been in the store in over two years! We know the things we need to do!’”
Most of the staff members have been at The Varsity Shop for years.
“I’ve got one of the best crews we’ve ever had,” says Marc. “My people are kind, good-hearted, energetic, honest. My manager has been here for over twenty years. It’s a great family atmosphere.”
“But people know we’ve been in business for a long time; that we offer great value, service and quality merchandise; that we love our work,” Marc states.
“Where else can you get paid for talking about sports, wearing tennis shoes and team sweatshirts? And dealing with good staff and customers? All this, and more, that came with my first ‘free lunch.’”
The Varsity Shop
623 S. Adams Road, in Adams Square Mall
Birmingham, MI 48009