Whether you know it as Fatty’s or Sport House is beside the point. This Route 44 fixture has helped Valley residents navigate snow-covered slopes for some 45 years and continues to do so.
In the late 1960s, Ron Freedman opened Sport House, a ski shop on Route 44. Today his son, Bruce and business partner Steve Unwin, continue to sell skis, snowboards, accessories and apparel from the same location.
Although the basic premise of the store is the same as it always was, Bruce Freedman, a Granby resident, has seen a lot of changes over the years.
In 1993, snowboards were so big, Sport House opened a second store in New Hartford, called Fatty’s to deal exclusively with the boom.
“We just went with it,” Freedman said.
Eventually, the trend faded and the boards were brought into the Canton location, which led to the dual name and today many, especially younger patrons, know the store as Fatty’s.
These days the pendulum has swung and skis account for approximately 80 percent of the business. However, they’re not the skinny ones of old. Most have taken cues from their wider cousins and have added the width and rocker.
“It all came from snowboarding,” Freedman said.
While there’s many variables and a point where they can get too wide for local slopes, they can help skiers of all levels.
“It’s less stress on the body,” Freedman said.
Another innovation, “twin tips,” or curves on both ends, have attracted the younger and more adventurous skiers who want to do tricks at terrain parks.
“It has really spiked the growth,” he said.
Freedman also feels skis, while harder to master, are better for beginners.
“The kids can do so much more with two independent legs,” he said.
The changes in the industry, along with factors such as the proximity of Ski Sundown and the number of skiers in the Farmington Valley have really helped the business.
Not everyone has been so lucky. Freedman has seen other shops struggle and some close, especially those near ski areas that have closed. He realizes the expense keeps many away although the store does sell used, which helps some.
Of course, the weather can drastically affected the store. Last winter was not a good one.
"We’re so seasonal and weather related,” he said. “We’re like a farmer.”
But Freedman feels two other factors have helped. While the store hasn’t delved much into summer sports over the years, they do offer screen printing and embroidery, which is done year round.
The other is servicing boards and skis. For 22 years, Ed Egan has perfected the craft or repairing and tuning skis and boards.
“We’re known far and wide for our service,” Freedman said.
Egan, a resident of Farmington, can customize that service based on the skier and where the conditions they mostly encounter. He has a variety of machines and hand tools he uses, as well as numerous waxes. No matter who the client, he works to offer the best possible experience.
“I take pride in what I do,” he said.
Lisa Walzak of Canton said the business as a whole does just that. The staff always works to get everything just right, she said.
“They take the time,” she said.
Unwin said it’s a critical part to staying in business and serving the customers.
“You’ve got to make the experience really good,” he said.
Freedman said it’s been a great place to work as well. A music fan, it’s been a big part of the store and skiing. Freedman said he’s realized how fortunate he’s been; especially as so many have struggled in the past several years. It's also a sport that has involved entire families of those involved in the business.
“I’m lucky this is what I do every day,” he said. "It's more than a business. It's a way of life."
Fatty's (or Sport House)