Suit up

Athletic House makes comeback in Blount

By Lance Coleman
Editor
Blount Today

It’s a family tradition, and the family is bringing a familiar name in sporting goods back to Blount County.

The Athletic House is reopening a retail presence in Blount County after a 20 year absence. John Cook Jr., Scott Ryan and Scott Elrod told Blount Today they are opening the store at 331 Suite 2 Whitecrest Drive, next to Crest Bowling, on July 20.

The store has a total of 2,000 square feet.

Ryan said Cook’s grandfather, Frank Calloway, started the business in 1922.

"John’s grandfather was the first pro baseball player out of UT and played with the Philadelphia Athletics," Ryan said. "He started Athletic House on Gay Street."

Ryan said that years ago Athletic House was where people bought sports gear.

"That’s where I got my first pair of cleats," he said. "It was a big deal to go down to Athletic House."

Cook said Athletic House also had boat dealers like Sea Ray. In addition they sold hunting and fishing gear.

Cook said his father started the State Street location in Knoxville. A handful of stores were in operation throughout the area, but the Maryville store closed in the mid 1980s, and the other stores were separated and sold. The family has kept the team, wholesale and school division going since then at a location on Wray Street in Knoxville, he said.

Ryan said Cook was leading the effort to reopen a retail presence in Maryville. "It’s John’s turn, and he’s got a lot of fire in his belly," Ryan said. "Part of that was getting Mr. Elrod."

Elrod shared Ryan’s enthusiasm for the project. "I was very excited because Athletic House has been a name around here," he said. "I grew up around here. I was very excited."

Cook said that currently Maryville is the first retail outlet they’ve planned but they couldn’t elaborate where or if other locations were planned. "Maryville is the first retail location," Cook said. "Just getting it up and running, that’s the main focus."

The trio said their retail outlet will carry such brands as Under Armour, Russell, New Balance, a full line of softball equipment and supplies and many other sports gear. Other brands include Rawlings, Easton, Wilson, Mizuno, Adams and Schutt.

Cook said the company’s philosophy of customer service will show through in how they and their employees run the business.

"Bottom line is, it’s always our customer service," he said. "Our main focus is still the team and the school. That’s what we’ve always focused on."

Ryan said Athletic House can provide everything from uniforms to balls, scoreboards, field paint, the tape that goes on gym floors, the padding. "Everything that goes into playing a sport" he said.

The whole nine yards," Cook said.

The store also has Lacrosse supplies. They also recently hired sales person who is a cheer and dance teacher. "This is a young lady who just graduated college and who knows and loves (cheerleading)," Cook said. "She does choreography and everything for them."

Cook said a market they also will try to tap into is the corporate market where individual companies hire other companies to embroider shirts.

"Corporate (contract work) is something we’ve not tapped into," Cook said. "We have just as good or better sources for that type of work," he said.

Elrod said Athletic House will compete with Internet businesses simply because of the good service customers will get.

"The big thing is, a lot of people go to the Internet," he said. "Here we’ve got a face. You can call us today and tomorrow and get the same person."

Cook agreed. "We’re the ones dropping off orders at houses and ball fields," he said. "I can’t tell you how many uniforms and bats and balls I’ve hauled."

Ryan said customers know the difference. "It’s the service that makes the difference," he said.

As word has spread that Athletic House is returning to Blount County, the trio has seen excited former customers. "Everyone I talked to is excited," Ryan said. "They’ve got a memory of Athletic House."

Elrod said he hears from people everyday asking when the store will open. "There’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t run into someone who hears about it," he said. "The enthusiasm is unreal. Everyone knows what it is."

As manager, Elrod said he plans to hire four to five part-time employees and another full-time employee.

"Family means a lot to me, to John and Scott. You see us today, you can call and see us tomorrow," Elrod said. "Everyone knows what we stand for. Living in Blount County, that’s what people like. They want to be taken care of, and we will do
that."

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