Monday, August 23, 2010
In the midst of the World Cup in the early morning hours of June 23, the soccer store in our town burned down, the victim of a lightning strike. I heard about it just a few hours after it happened because its joint tenant was a Starbuck's, and a Starbuck's burning down on a work week morning is big news. Stefan's was the town square of soccer here. It's where I learned all the soccer gossip, connected with fellow soccer moms and dads, caught up with my son's friends, and took a few moments to discover the new gear.
The manager was a young man from Ghana who, at one time or another, had coached both my boys. I could always count on a smile from Abdul. I had the honor of being a witness to his evolving life from soccer player and coach to student to boyfriend to husband to father. I attended his wedding, cheered him on as he returned to college, prayed for him and his wife when she got breast cancer, and beamed when their daughter was born. Other employees included players we had competed with and against over the years. Buying a pair of soccer socks wasn't a five minute trip. Like in the country stores with their pot belly stoves, we all congregated on the benches in the shoe section and chewed the fat. Stefan's was not just a store; it was a refuge.
Once, Robbie was headed to a national tryout in Florida and when he put his bag together late the night before he realized that he couldn't find his shin guards. We tore the house apart and finally admitted to ourselves that he probably left them at the last game. Stefan's didn't open until 10 the next morning, the same time Robbie had to be at the airport. Robbie was frantic, but I told him all was not lost. So at 9:30 a.m. we zoomed into Stefan's parking lot trusting that Abdul or someone would be at the store already. We knocked on the glass door and openly cheered as we saw Abdul's head pop up from the office in the back. He was laughing as he opened the door. "What'd you forget?" As he grabbed the right shin guards I could see the anxiety wash away from Robbie. Because the cash registers weren't open yet, I promised to return to pay after dropping Robbie off. I couldn't have done that at any big box store or mega-sports outlet. And Robbie wouldn't have gotten a cheerful pat on the back and a sincere "Good Luck" from one of their clerks who had no idea what a big deal this tryout was.
Every August team managers descended on Stefan's to pick up their uniform orders for their teams. This was a stressful experience that Stefan's managed to make less so. Each player's order was bagged up with the order form in the bag and then all the bags in a box. All a manager had to do was pick up the box, take it to a practice, and hand out the bags. Stefan's rarely made a mistake, and if they did it was corrected quickly and uncomplainingly. Of course there was a deadline for orders and of course many of the managers were late with the orders, but somehow everything got done in time for the first game or tournament. And when a manager came in with a new player the coach had added on Aug, 28, Stefan's still somehow managed to get the order done. It was a personal touch that a family owned and run store could offer.
So when the store burned down it took away family. I sent an e-mail immediately to the owner to offer any help I could, but she said that because the damage was so extensive they would just be closing. I don't think it completely hit me until two weeks later when my grandkids came to visit and I couldn't take them to Stephan's to get their gear for soccer camp. Now whenever I am out and drive by the shell that was the store I get depressed. I counted on my visits to the store to bring some delight into my life and to bring me up to speed on what was happening in soccer in S.E. Wisconsin. My last time in the store was buying two World Cup T-shirts for the boys. I even went back to the store a couple hours later to exchange one T-shirt for another size. It was that convenient.
There are other Stefan's stores in Wisconsin, but none are just minutes from my house and filled with old and dear friends. I will truly miss it. I'm sure many of you have a similar haven where you get your soccer necessities and catch up on your soccer news. Be sure you let them know how much you appreciate their service and their attention. The staff at Stefan's used to joke when I came through the door that they could finally make payroll this month. Based on the amount I spent there, it might not have been entirely a joke. But it shows how much the store and its customers were intertwined. It wasn't just a business – it was a family. And I will miss doing business with them.