Olympia Sports in Falmouth displays sale signs in its windows Wednesday. The regional sports chain was bought by JackRabbit, a retailer backed by a California private investment firm, on Tuesday. (Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald)

The new owner of Olympia Sports will close dozens of the Westbrook-based company’s stores as it moves to consolidate bricks-and-mortar operations amid increasing competition from online retailers. 

Olympia Sports, founded in 1975 as one of the first retailers in the then-new Maine Mall, was purchased by JackRabbit, a retailer specializing in running and active lifestyles goods. Terms of the sale, announced Tuesday by JackRabbit, were not released. 

A spokeswoman for Olympia Sports said about half of the 150 sporting goods stores that the company operates, including some in Maine, will close as a result of the deal. Joanne Kenny, Olympia’s corporate communications director, said workers at the company’s headquarters in Westbrook also will be laid off, although she declined to say how many. Kenny said those layoffs will be phased as stores close. 

The company notified the state Department of Labor that it intends mass layoffs, defined in by law as at least 50 workers and a third of the workforce, said Jessica Picard, a department spokeswoman. She said the company hasn’t actually filed a notice – it’s expected in the next couple of weeks – so the department doesn’t know how many layoffs are planned. Once the company files, the state will send its Rapid Response services team to help workers find other jobs. 

STORES IN FLUX 

A news release about the purchase said that the transaction would give JackRabbit 135 bricks-and-mortar locations. At the beginning of the summer, JackRabbit had 62 stores in 18 states, and by late August it announced that it would open two stores in Texas and had purchased Nashville-based Rhythm Running, a sporting goods retailer with a store in Tennessee. 

Kenny declined to say which stores will be closed, but said customers will see liquidation sales at the locations that are being shuttered. Olympia Sports has stores from Maine to Virginia. 

Those stores are facing stronger headwinds from online retailers. In February, the U.S. Commerce Department said that online general merchandise sales had eclipsed in-person retail sales for the first time ever. Online sales accounted for about 12 percent of all U.S. retail spending, fourth overall in the sector behind motor vehicle and parts sales in first at 20 percent, and food and beverage sales, and restaurant and bar sales, each making up about 12 percent of all retail sales. 

In many ways, Olympia Sports was able to grow despite the malaise affecting retailers across the country. In a 2011 interview with the Press Herald, company President Dick Coffey said Olympia Sports had been able to grow into a major player in the retail sports industry thanks in part to a strategy of selling family sports equipment in towns lacking a large retail presence. 

“We went to smaller, remote markets that have little or no competition. There is quite a need there,” Coffey said at the time. “If you have a young family with a bunch of athletes, we like to think we carry the stuff you are looking for.” 

Edward Manganello opened the first Olympia store in 1975. A native of Munjoy Hill in Portland and a former math teacher at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish, he chose a 2,700-square-foot space in the new Maine Mall and sold products that became Olympia staples: footwear, sports equipment and clothing. Coffey, one of Olympia’s first employees, managed the Maine Mall store. 

But Manganello as CEO had his eye outside the Portland area, and by the 1980s had opened stores at regional malls in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. In the mid-90s, the company began expanding into strip malls. 

For much of that time, Olympia Sports has been a key part of the Maine community, supplying gift cards to school fundraisers and sporting events. In 2000, it started a foundation to work with churches and community groups to establish a clothing bank to help people in need. According to the company’s website, the initiative provided 39,000 people with new clothing and shoes. 

“Olympia Sports, the Manganello family and our dedicated employees have tirelessly served our customers and communities for nearly five decades,” Manganello, now the president of Olympia Sports, said in a statement. “We would like to thank everyone who has been involved in our success – especially our employees. 

“We look forward to transitioning Olympia to the JackRabbit family and believe they will be outstanding stewards of the Olympia brand and its long-standing customers and vendors.” 

FUTURE CUSTOMERS 

For managers of the remaining stores, there should be some solace in the strength of the sporting goods market. The online site Statista said $25.69 billion in sports equipment will be sold this year and that figure is expected to grow to $31.08 billion by 2025. 

Josh Clark, a manager of the Olympia Sports store in Waterville, said he is unsure how the acquisition by JackRabbit will impact the Waterville location. 

Several signs on the windows advertise for at least one part-time worker for the holiday season, and Clark said he has not been told to stop the hiring process. He declined to comment on how many employees currently work at the Waterville shop. 

Clark, who has worked at Olympia Sports for 10 years, said the store has a strong customer base in the greater Waterville area and that it would be a loss for the community if it closed. It is one of two sporting goods stores in the city. 

“We know a lot of people by name here, which is not something you can find many places,” Clark said. “And a lot of people know us, too.” 

BIGGER FOOTPRINT 

JackRabbit was founded as The Finish Line. Two years ago, it was sold to CriticalPoint Capital, a private investment firm based in Manhattan Beach, California. Last year CPC acquired Clever Training, a provider of fitness technology and accessories. 

“Olympia Sports is a cornerstone investment and brand for the JackRabbit family of stores due to its success serving communities in the Northeast over the previous 45 years,” Brad Holtmeier, a partner at CriticalPoint Capital, said in a statement. “The combination of these two specialty athletic retailers is an ideal match and allows JackRabbit to expand its footprint and product categories further into athletic goods, while maintaining its commitment to dedicated athletes and runners.” 

A visitor log at Olympia Sports’ corporate headquarters in Westbrook on Wednesday indicated that Bill Kirkendall, JackRabbit’s CEO, was at the offices. He did not respond to an email seeking comment. 

Kenny, the Olympia Sports communications director, declined to say how many people work for the company or in the corporate offices or distribution center, which is in an attached building in a Westbrook industrial park. 

The company reported in 2013 that 165 people worked in the combined operation, Westbrook City Manager Jerre Bryant said on Wednesday. 

Meg Robbins of the Morning Sentinel contributed to this story. 

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