Cara Griffin | Sports Insight

The 10-store specialty chain Sports Basement is known in the Bay Area not only for its killer brands and prices, but also for its quirky stores and its community vibe. Founded in 1998 by a young group of outdoor-loving entrepreneurs in San Francisco, its CEO — still at the helm 21 years later — is one of the co-founders, Eric Prosnitz.

How the chain got its name: Sports Basement aims to sell “the best brands at basement prices.” Prosnitz, a Harvard MBA, has said that the goal was to offer quality items at great values and make shopping fun, not a chore. Today the store sells more in-line goods than not, but also offers samples, discontinued, remaindered and close-out products from top-tier brands at “basement” prices.

What makes it special: The stores are big, but unique. Most of the fixtures in the stores are custom built. Signs, racks and displays are made by hand in the retailer’s wood and metal shop. As the store count has grown, each individual location has retained a specialty feel. Sports Basement locations serve as a community center and a hangout for local athletes and groups who use the space daily for club meetings, to host potlucks, to start a workout or to pick up some tips at a speaker series event. Many store employees are local coaches, instructors, outdoor enthusiasts, teachers and students.

Key categories in the store: These stores are packed with gear, and they cover a lot of categories. Run, swim, triathlon, bike, camp/outdoor, travel street, snow, team and training are all key.

How it evolved: The Mission Bay store opened in 1998. The start-up cut costs everywhere it could, from handmaking fixtures and signs to scouring the street for secondhand couches to clean up and reuse. By 2003, Sports Basement had relocated its initial store into the former military commissary store in San Francisco’s Presidio. You can still see the old military grocery store’s Bakery and Fish sections at the Presidio store. The chain has kept expanding in the Bay Area, with its most recent location (store number 10) opening in December, 2018. Store locations include spaces that have been re-imagined — such as a former Fry’s Electronics store, a former video store, a former hardware store and a former ice rink, among others.

Basement pricing: In 2015, the store went all-in on a revamped ecommerce site. It sells a full-line of products online, though some products are in-store only. Buy online, pick up in store is offered. Online and in-store prices for loyalty members, aka Basementeers, are discounted even further. The Basementeers program was launched in 2016. For a $25 one-time fee for a lifetime membership, Basementeers get 10 percent off every item every time they shop and 10 percent of profits from the purchases go to a charity or school of the customer’s choosing. This program has benefitted more than 1,200 Bay Area charities and schools, according to the retailer.