A fond farewell for Nestor’s Sporting Goods

More than 60 years of specialty retail excellence will come to an end when Nestor's Sporting Goods closes its doors in June. SNEWS takes a look at the end of an era in the Pennsylvania ski scene, and bids a fond farewell.
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More than 60 years of specialty retail excellence will come to an end when Nestor's Sporting Goods closes its doors in June. SNEWS takes a look at the end of an era in the Pennsylvania ski scene, and bids a fond farewell.

In the end, Peter and Karen Nestor faced the same dilemma as countless other retailers who’d dedicated their working lives to building a snowsports and outdoor business over the past three decades: Where does it go from here? The Nestor’s two grown sons, both of whom had helped out on the floor, saw the grueling hours, the risk involved, the dependence on weather, their own diverging interests--and decided they wanted to do something else.

Now, in the final weeks of managing Nestor’s Sporting Goods in Whitehall, Penn., a business that dates back to 1946, Peter said every day “is kind of like being at your own wake, hearing your own eulogy.” The daily goodbyes from longtime customers bearing gifts, hugs and heartfelt appreciation are providing a nice, if emotional, sendoff. Peter recalls one young customer who, after going away to college in Colorado, returned to Whitehall and went immediately to Nestor’s to rave about all he’d experienced. After a few hours, he was persuaded to go home and see his parents. “Sometimes,” Peter said, “I’m putting boots on the grandchild of someone who was an early customer of mine, the third generation.”

The evolution of Nestor’s parallels that of many snowsports and outdoor stores, with plenty of highs and lows: good snow, bad snow, adapting to the Internet, battling the big boxes, dealing with growth and contraction. In the 1990s, the operation expanded to three locations and reached $9 million in annual revenues with a multi-outdoor-sport offering, but had settled back to the main store and a quarter of that volume in recent years. “Every day brought challenges and crises, but also a lot of joy.” Through it all, Peter, 61, said they followed one philosophy: “Sports are fun as long as you are learning. When you are not learning, it’s over. I’ve always trained my staff to recognize that.”

Nestor’s father taught in a one-room schoolhouse and, after serving in World War II, started a small fly-fishing shop in his spare time. Peter started working there in 1973 (“I grew up teething on a fly-rod”), but after college sought to move the store toward his new passion, skiing. He couldn’t get past the booth receptionists at the first couple of SIA Shows he attended, but with help from longtime friend and industry rep Tom Beach, finally wore down several suppliers. Nestor’s went on to be named several times as one of Ski Magazine’s Gold Medal Shops, among other honors.

Nestor’s will close in June, and next fall will become the sixth location for Buckman’s Ski and Snowboard Shop, which bought the real estate from the Nestors. It’s the first presence in the Lehigh Valley for Buckman’s, which also has storefronts in Montgomeryville, Reading, King of Prussia, Doylestown and Ardmore, and has been named SIA’s Mid-Atlantic Retailer of the Year three of the past four seasons. Buckman’s fills a need for Nestor’s customers and also offers employment opportunities for the staff of 14 full-time employees.

“We’re ready. There’s no reason for us to keep working the farm,” Peter said. “It’s been a long time considering. The real impetus to keep it going was to get to the point where our sons could decide whether or not they were really interested, and when their interest wasn’t all there for it, it made the decision easy for us. I’m not going to miss the stress of owning inventory and going into each season. The truck’s backing up and beeping, and I’m thinking “Oh God, what was I thinking when I ordered all this stuff. Is it really gonna snow this year?”

Both Peter and Karen are considering other opportunities in the industry, but might also embark on a long roadtrip to spend a week with friends in 35 different locations, which would include plenty of ski and bike time. “It’s kind of nice not knowing,” Peter said.

--Andy Bigford

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