Gerrells and Hockey World continue to shine on 50th anniversary
An eclectic mix of sports equipment and apparel sales has kept Gerrells on the map for half a century.
GRAND FORKS — When Gerrells Sports Center opened in 1972, owner Doug Theroux had 1,600 square feet for retail space and storage.
“As small as we were, the tight budget we were on and the limited funds we had to start with, to make it look like we had more merchandise on the retail floor, we would take a basketball, football, golf clubs or whatever and display them on the shelf,” Theroux said.
“Then we’d put the empty boxes alongside of them to make it look like we had more inventory.”
Fast forward 50 years and Gerrells Sports Center has about 9,000 square feet and plenty of inventory. Though current owners Eric Knudson, Joe Kriewald and Todd Warner would say one never has enough space, they are more comfortable at the same location today while celebrating a milestone anniversary.
An eclectic mix of sports equipment and apparel sales from youth to college sports in general and hockey in particular has kept Gerrells on the map for half a century.
"Somebody mentioned however long ago that I think of Gerrells and the Red Pepper being in the same conversation,” Knudson said. “I just had a guy from Bismarck come in the other day. ... He said, 'Hey, I have to stop at the Pepper before I go home.’ But he did stop here, too, before he went home.' ''
Both the Red Pepper taco shop and Gerrells and Hockey World are destination spots for food and sports enthusiasts in the Red River Valley and beyond.
Theroux bought the business from the Gerrells family of Devils Lake in 1972. Another milestone came in 1987 when the company opened Hockey World across the alley from Gerrells on South Washington Street. Hockey World pioneered a new retail program in the region, when it began offering the leasing of skates in addition to selling hockey sticks and skates.
"We knew hockey was growing," Knudson said. "We knew we had to have a special hockey place."
In 1988, Brad Westrum became the owner. The threesome of Knudson, Kriewald and Warner bought the business in 2017.
"Doug set the foundation and Brad certainly added to it," Knudson said of the predecessors.
When Payless ShoeSource vacated its part of the building next to Gerrells, the company bought it and moved Hockey World across the alley for a one-stop shop in 2000.
“With Gerrells, many are second- or third-generation customers,” former owner Westrum said. “What many don’t realize is that loyalty doesn’t just occur with ‘walk in’ customers, but also with Gerrells’ institutional (school) customers.
“Many of these relationships with schools in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota have existed since 1972. Of course, coaches and administrators change, but school support has always remained strong.”
Knudson, who started at the company in 1982 as a part-time sales associate, holds down the fort in Grand Forks. Kriewald sells equipment and apparel across the state of North Dakota. Warner travels northwest Minnesota.
“Even with the presence of online options for these customers, the Gerrellss ‘road sales’ team travels to the schools and maintains these longtime relationships,” Westrum said.
While they sell to some area college teams, Gerrells and Hockey World do a larger business with high school and youth teams. Significant sales come from the efforts of Kriewald and Warner on the road.
Theroux said Gerrells is successful because of the people who have run the store. “I’m very happy for them, and it makes me feel good. There aren’t many businesses that make it 50 years,” he said.
Unlike when Theroux opened the doors, there are a variety of products to attract customers. Some are too large for the store.
Knudson often hears from patrons who didn't realize the company sells everything from goal posts to baseball fences to drags for baseball infields to field paint for football and baseball.
You want bleachers? Gerrells can sell them. How about scoreboards and backboards? Ditto. Lockers and weight equipment? Copy.
Hockey sticks and skates remain the No. 1 seller.
Just last year, Gerrells and Hockey World won Bauer's Dealer of the Year award.
Up next for Gerrells and Hockey World is to expand its online presence. Customers cannot order on the website.
"We’re trying to get up to that level of being online," Knudson said.
In the meantime, quality products, loyal customers and good customer service keep Gerrells and Hockey World in the game.