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Canfield's Sporting Goods to Close at the End of 2017

*This article was taken from the Omaha World-Herald, originally published on December 8, 2017

Canfield's Sporting Goods to Close, Ending its 71-Year Run as an Independent Sporting Goods Store

A mainstay of Omaha’s retail scene — where over the years legions of backpackers, campers and weekenders went for a new tent or some old Army fatigues — will succumb to the troubles facing stores across the country.

Canfield’s Sporting Goods said Wednesday that it would close after 71 years of hawking what it at one time called rugged outdoor goods. A last-ditch attempt to remodel the single-location shop and appeal to a new generation couldn’t overcome the march of shoppers to online retailers and national chains.

The store, at 84th Street and West Center Road, will close at the end of January.

A liquidation sale will begin Friday.

Owner Scott Marble, who worked at Canfield’s for 10 years before taking over as owner in 2014, cited common challenges in the retail industry as the reason for closing: expanding competition from online retailers, the decline of “big box” stores and — bad news for a store that sells lots of winter-sports goods and apparel — increasingly warm winters.

The store also once was a one-stop shop for Boy Scouts looking for vests, books and badges, which the store sewed on in-house. But in 2015, the Boy Scouts of America pulled its distributorship, which accounted for about 15 percent of the business’s sales, Marble said. The Scout business also drew traffic to the store — Boy Scouts would often pick up a new pair of boots or camping gear while they were there.

“That really was the beginning of the end,” Marble said.

The local Boy Scouts office didn’t return a call for comment.

Many of the brands Canfield’s sells, like North Face and Columbia, turned to new channels of distribution by selling directly to customers — online or at their own branded, stand-alone locations, often discounting heavily at prices Canfield’s couldn’t compete with. The store’s largest vendor, Carhartt, opened its own store last year at Shadow Lake Towne Center in Papillion.

“We attempted to make some changes,” Marble said. “But with the extremely warm winters and many of our own vendors trying to capture sales via their own websites, the headwinds were too strong.”

(The U.S. as a whole has seen two of the warmest winters on record the past two years, according to government statistics. Of course, fewer people are out buying parkas, skis, sleds or other cold-weather items when it’s 50 degrees on Thanksgiving.)

But Marble said he didn’t give up: The business remodeled in August and added a new bicycle department in an effort to differentiate itself from competitors. The store shrank its square footage and did away with its military tactical department.

It wasn’t enough, Marble said.

Canfield’s was founded in 1946 by LeRoy Canfield as an Army surplus, camping, hunting and fishing store. It had since evolved to also sell gear for running, biking, hiking and paddle sports.

The store started out operating in the back of a family tailor shop. It moved to 512 N. 16th St. in 1949 and then to 2415 Cuming St. in 1962. In 1994, Canfield’s settled at its current location.

Jim Hanson of New Market, Iowa, said he shopped at Canfield’s when it was on Cuming Street, especially for fishing rods and reels.

“You just hate to see the small independent ones go by the wayside,” Hanson said.

He said Omaha-only staples, like Canfield’s, were reminiscent of the old Omaha steakhouses, many of which have closed over the past decade. They all contributed to what made Omaha special, he said.

“It’s just the uniqueness of Omaha that is lost, and you aren’t gonna get them back,” Hanson said.

Theresa Kraw of Bellevue also has shopped at Canfield’s for decades for ski apparel, camping gear and everything in between.

News of the store’s closing cast a cloud over the day, she said. Over the years, her family became friends with second-generation owner Richard Canfield, who sold the store to Marble.

“It’s almost like a death in the family, it really is, because it’s a legacy of a place,” Kraw said. “It was just more of a nice, homey feeling than to go into a big store where nobody knows anybody.”

Bricks-and-mortar retailers — even large chains like Walmart — have been struggling to compete with online-only sellers like Amazon for several years.

The outdoors industry especially has been competitive after years of rapid expansion by chains like Cabela’s, Scheels and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

“The world is changing in a lot of ways,” Kraw said. “There’s so many things against those small businesses anymore. It’s just hard to have a chance anymore. I don’t know what it takes.”

*To read the full article from the Omaha World-Herald, click here.