Super Sports strings along appreciative Manhattan Beach for 40 years
Super Sports owners Rene and Anne Sandera (center) with Cody Smith and Robert Fisher. Photo
Around 5:30 p.m. Monday afternoon, a call came in to Super Sports, the sporting goods and apparel shop in the Manhattan Village Mall. A customer who had been in the store earlier in the day, and had left behind one of the new shoes she had purchased.
No problem, said co-owner Anne Sandera. She could drop it by the customer’s house on her way home from work.
The tiny moment helps explain how Super Sports is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month. Not only was Sandera willing to drive to the customer’s home: She knew the customer socially, and didn’t even have to ask the address.
The Manhattan Beach store, employees and customers say, has managed to stick around in a changing South Bay, survive tough times for brick-and-mortar retail, and now the coronavirus pandemic, by maintaining a close relationship with customers. Anne Sandera estimates she knows 70 percent of the store’s customers by name, and looks forward to moving about the shop all day, keeping up with what’s happening in their lives.
“You know how some people dread going to work? I can’t imagine that,” she said.
The son of a physics PhD who immigrated here from the former Czechoslovakia, René Sandera, Anne’s husband, grew up in Manhattan Beach. He was a passionate tennis player, and played at El Camino College.
Growing up, Sandera recalled only one place to buy tennis shoes and sporting goods, a store called Billy’s in downtown Manhattan Beach. At 19, armed with an inheritance from a relative, he set out to open another. In 1978, he put down $10,000 with a group that was planning to turn the former Lamar Theater on Manhattan Beach Boulevard — today home to a corporate office of Skechers — into retail stores. He signed the lease in front of a movie screen.
“It was just something inside me,” Sandera said of his entrepreneurial spirit. “I saw what [Billy’s] w[as] doing wrong, and I thought I might be able to do it better myself.”
The Lamar group went bankrupt, and Sandera lost the $10,000, half of his inheritance. Discouraged but not beaten, he turned his attention to a site in the soon-to-open Manhattan Village, which was previously the site of a Chevron refinery tank farm. In August 1980, he opened in a kiosk surrounded by parking spaces that he shared with a See’s Candy and a Hӓaggen-Dazs, about 50 yards from his current location.
Although not his first choice, locating in then-new Manhattan Village proved to be a boon to Super Sports. He opened as Manhattan’s transformation from sleepy beach town to nexus of wealth was accelerating. Within years of his opening, more of the former Chevron land would be turned into the Manhattan Village housing community, and the Manhattan Beach Country Club would open down the road.
For years, the Country Club hosted the Virginia Slims of Los Angeles, a women’s professional tennis tournament. Super Sports handled racket stringing for the event, which helped the store build relationships with top pros. Many liked the job that Super Sports did so much that they continued relying on the store for decades.
Nick Cote is a tennis pro at the Manhattan Beach Country Club. After playing competitive tennis in the late ‘80s, he was offered the chance to coach the junior national tennis team in Indonesia. He returned to the United States broke, but the Sanderas helped him find his footing and gave him a job for a time. Today, he sends all of his clients to get their rackets strung at the store. Though he remains grateful, the referrals are hardly acts of charity. He’s yet to find another place that can meet his demanding expectations.
“I’m one of those people who like their stringing job done a certain way,” Cote said, laughing at his own particularity. “If you want a specific tension on the mains, and specific tension on the crosses, you can guarantee that that’s the way it will be.”
Over the years, the store expanded its offerings and kept up with trends and crazes, from Reebok hi-tops to rollerblades. (During the coronavirus pandemic, it’s been roller skates that are flying off the shelves.) They’ve also weathered the rise of online shopping. Sandera said it isn’t easy, but that the nature of the sporting goods business makes people want a physical store.
Manhattan Beach resident Bridgette Goodman agrees. The long-time customer said that she couldn’t imagine Amazon replicating the service Super Sports provides.
“There’s no way I can buy a tennis racket online. I can go in there, check out a racket, play for two days, and take back if I need to,” Goodman said.
Goodman, who also grew up in Manhattan Beach, said she enjoys supporting a store that is locally owned and family-run. Even those who aren’t related to Sandera begin seeming like family, and the store has had its share of long-tenured employees. That includes Robert Fisher, who has worked there for more than two decades.
Asked what kept him working at the store, he said, “It’s the people. There’s a lot of good energy in this community.” ER