ROCK HILL, S.C. — Dennis Edwards remembers traveling around with his father selling sports merchandise at county fairs. They had everything packed into the back of a van.
“We had some mirrors, magnets, a few T-shirts and things,” Edwards said.
That annual trek through county fairs eventually became The College Shoppe in Rock Hill.
While the store sold to the public, the much bigger business was literally underground, in a basement where the family kept a warehouse for their wholesale operation. They sold to major outlets and retailers nationwide.
The College Shoppe was known for its wide variety of Clemson and South Carolina merchandise, shirts, clothes, hats, magnets, license plates, stickers, stuffed animals and much more.
They also sold high school team items and pro football stuff too.
"We made it 42 years, that's a pretty good run," Edwards told Channel 9 on Tuesday.
However, it’s game over for the longtime family business.
The retail world has changed dramatically since 1977. The store has lost much of its wholesale business as big-box stores now buy from larger corporate operations, not mom and pop stores.
Licensing fees have risen, making it harder for stores to make much profit.
When The College Shoppe opened, Edwards said there were no licensing fees. They could print up a shirt with any logo they wanted and sell it.
The shop did survive a tragic event that many small businesses can't.
In June 2004, Channel 9 covered a huge fire at the store’s former spot on Oakland Avenue. It gutted the building and destroyed everything.
"I didn't think we could reopen, and I’d just bought out my dad in the business at the time," he said.
Edwards did go on, and opened a new store on Cherry Road in time for the kickoff of football season. He's been there ever since.
Over the years he saw fewer customers walk through the door as they chose to buy online instead of shopping local like he'd pushed for for so long.
“A lot of people come in just to try on sizing and take pictures. Then they go out the door and we thank 'em for coming in, and we know they’re going to order it online," he said.
Still, the shop has its devoted fans, and they can’t believe their outlet for everything sports is closing.
Allison Nicholson has shopped there for years.
“I about cried. My husband told me last night, and I about balled. I don’t know where else I’m gonna go,” she said.
Large posterboard signs now hang in the front windows-“50 percent off! All sales final,” they say.
Customers browsing the aisles said there's something lost when you can't hold and touch something you want before you buy it.
“I like coming in where I can see it, get a look at it, and compare prices,” said Tammy Barrs. “I hate to see it leave.”
Customers may complain about online shopping, and the frustration of having to return items that don't fit or that they decide they don't like. Yet, that's where business is going and has gone.
Edwards saw it coming years ago and said he should have closed the shop a while back, but didn’t want to quit.
“I kept thinking it would come back, and that we could still make it work,” he said. “Still, I’d like to thank everyone for the 42 years we had.”
His son Denny took over running the shop a few years ago. The third generation of his family to do so. He already has a new job elsewhere.
The College Shoppe will stay open for about another week, depending on how long it takes to sell the remaining heavily discounted merchandise and clear out the wholesale items.
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