Sports shop was in the cards
Winnetka, 09/08/12--Keith McDonough and his son Sam pose for a picture inside Bleachers Sports. | Jeff Krage~For Sun-Times Media
557 Chestnut St.
Hours: Mon-Fri 12-5, Sat. 10-5, Sundays by appointment.
Updated: September 18, 2012 10:20AM
WINNETKA — For NBA big man Shaquille O’Neal, 1992 was a very big year, being that he was drafted by the Orlando Magic. It also was a big year for Keith McDonough, who was so enthralled by O’Neal that he started buying and collecting sets of sports cards.
When McDonough realized he had a huge collection, he and his wife, Patti, decided to open their first store.
“It all made sense,” McDonough said. “I had this great collection of cards, so I knew it was a good opportunity. Plus, I’ve always been a big sports fan.”
Two decades and three locations later, Bleachers Sports, located on Chestnut Street in the heart of downtown Winnetka, continues to carry sports cards, but the store also sells sports memorabilia, including autographed jerseys, balls, helmets, shoes, books, programs and prints.
Chris Verzevoulias works in the area and says he stops into the store a lot to browse.
“They’ve got a lot of really cool stuff,” he says, referring to a framed collection of three Michael Jordan items hanging on the store wall, which include a personal check Jordan wrote to AT&T in 1989, the first Sports Illustrated cover Jordan was ever on, and a photo of his winning shot in the 1984 NCAA championship game.
McDonough said his best customers are moms, and that the store is primarily a gift store, but he also does a lot of business for “man caves.”
“A man cave is a designated area for the man of the house,” he said. “They are a usually set up in a basement or a family room, and they are a great place for guys to hang and display their favorite sports teams and players.”
Matt Hulsizer, of Winnetka, is a frequent customer and considers the store a great baby-sitter.
“These guys come in here and look around for a long time,” Hulsizer said, referring to his kids.
“I’ve gotten some really cool hockey cards here,” said Hulsizer’s 8-year-old son, Joe.
Keith’s 24-year-old son, Sam McDonough, has been hanging out at the store his whole life. He now works at Bleachers, and one of his favorite things about being in the business is that he and his dad get a lot of sports trivia from the customers, which he calls the “little tidbits that SportsCenter doesn’t provide.”
“We’re learning all the time from customers,” says Sam, “A guy came in and told us that when the Cubs played the Yankees in the World Series in 1932, Babe Ruth said, ‘I wish I could play in this dump every game, I’d have hit 50 more homers.’”
“This is like owning a barber shop,” says Keith, “People come in here and they talk.”
Chicago teams account for 50 percent of the store’s merchandise. Keith said sales largely depend on wins and losses.
“For example, the Yankees have 27 world championships, so we have to stock our store with Yankee stuff. We also sell a lot of Green Bay Packers items,” says Keith.
He says two events that really affected business were the Bears’ 2005 Super Bowl loss, and the Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup win.
“When Patrick Kane scored the winning goal, we were jumping up and down, not just as fans, but for the fact that we owned 500 autographs that we had bought a couple weeks earlier,” Keith said. “The bottom line is, I’ve got my business tied into the success and failure of these Chicago sports teams.”
Famous Chicago athletes have done in-store signings at Bleachers, including Gayle Sayers, Brian Urlacher, Ernie Banks, Luol Deng, and Mike Ditka.
“Ditka was amazing,” Sam said. “He was really nice, and great with the kids.”