Honus Wagner Sporting Goods, Downtown, to Close After 93 Years
By Sam Spatter, FOR THE PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Honus Wagner Sporting Goods store, Downtown — started by the Pirates baseball legend 91 years ago — is closing.
Harriet Shapiro, who with her husband Murray are the fourth generation to own the store, confirmed Tuesday the closing by phone from her Florida home. She said “there was no one in her family willing to operate the store.”
Plans are to begin a “Going-out-of-Business” sale within the next few days — or by the end of the week, a sale that could last for up to 60 days.
The building, at 320 Forbes Ave., is under option to be purchased by Point Park University. About 10 are employed at the store, Shapiro said.
The store was closed Monday and Tuesday for the staff to take inventory, said Joe Melcher, floor manager.
The store will be reopened at 10 a.m. today.
Melcher said the economy probably had more of an impact over the past year on sales than did major sporting-goods stores, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, although it did have some impact on sales.
“If Dick’s had a Downtown location, the impact might have been more,” he said.
The Honus Wagner store dealt mainly in shoes and sports apparel, although it did some business in team-licensed goods, Melcher said.
The store usually is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. The store is closed Sundays, except for home Steelers games, Melcher said.
“It’s always unfortunate that a Pittsburgh institution, such as Honus Wagner Sporting Goods closes, but with the generational change, those things happen,” said Mike Edwards, CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, a group of business and community leaders, property owners, civic organizations and residents that promotes Downtown interests.
The store always seemed “surprisingly busy,” Edwards said.
The store was started in 1919 — at 813 Liberty Ave., Downtown — by former Pittsburgh Pirates players Honus Wagner and Pie Traynor, two years after Wagner retired, said Shapiro.
Wagner is widely regarded as one of Major League Baseball’s greatest players. He was one of five players inducted into the Hall of Fame in its inaugural Class of 1936.
Although the store carried the Honus Wagner name, that wasn’t enough to make the business a success — even with Wagner occasionally stopping at the store in the 1920s.
In 1928, the store was in bankruptcy. That year, Shapiro’s father, E. Louis Braunstein, purchased it. At one time, Braunstein operated 15 stores, she said.
In the mid-1960s, the store was relocated to its present site on Forbes Avenue, said Shapiro.
“The problem of a single-store retailer is that it does not have a lot of leverage with its vendors,” said Sam Poser, senior retail analyst with Sterne and Agee, based in New York. “If traffic is slow and there’s a lot of inventory but cash is slow, the single-store operator can easily be impacted by the national economy.”
Poser covers such retailers as Dick’s, Columbia Sportswear, Hibbett Sports Inc., Nike Inc. and Wolverine World Wide Inc.
Johannes Peter “Honus” Wagner was a Carnegie native who played Major League Baseball for 21 seasons — from 1897 to 1917. Wagner was with the Pirates for all but the first three of those seasons.
The shortstop won eight batting titles and batted .300 or better for 17 consecutive seasons. He played in nearly 2,800 games; had 10,450 at-bats; recorded 3,430 hits; and amassed a .328 lifetime average. He had 651 doubles, 252 triples and 722 stolen bases.
A Honus Wagner statue originally was outside Forbes Field in Oakland and later stood at Three Rivers Stadium. The statue was moved to PNC Park after the new North Shore ballpark opened in 2001.
Born in 1874 in Mansfield — which merged with Chartiers in 1894 to become Carnegie — the Pirates legend died Dec. 6, 1955, while living in Carnegie.
A nearly mint condition Wagner baseball card sold in 2007 for $2.8 million — believed to be the most ever paid for a baseball card. Another one, in poor condition, sold for $262,900 in November.