Blythe’s Sport Shop is marking its 65th year in Northwest Indiana, and the first in which it hasn't been owned by the Blythe family.
Jeff Neeley, the new president and owner of the long-standing sporting goods stores in Griffith and Valparaiso, acquired Blythe's for an undisclosed sum from the family that ran it for four generations. He is looking to add a few more stores in the future, and maintain the customer service and personal touch that has made Blythe's an institution in Northwest Indiana.
"My plan is to not screw it up," he said.
Blythe's is celebrating a "grand opening" under the new ownership throughout the month of June. Both stores will have weekly specials, door prizes and drawings.
“This grand opening event celebrates Blythe’s 65th year in business and gives us an opportunity to meet with many long-time loyal customers as well as new customers,” Neeley said. “We are committed to the same foundation the Blythe family built this business on — integrity and family values.”
Blythe's opened at 138 N. Broad St. in downtown Griffith, back when the town was still out in the country, and expanded to 2810 Calumet Ave. in Valparaiso in 1980. It sells goods such as firearms, knives and safes. It was originally billed as "Your Family Fun Store," with a focus on hunting, fishing, archery and athletic wear.
It now claims to have "the largest selection of guns, ammo and safes" in Northwest Indiana, and adds new inventory daily.
Former owner Dick Blythe, who ran the business from 1956 to 1996, won multiple accolades over his lengthy business career, including from Outdoor Life Magazine, the Hammond Sports Hall of Fame and Southern Illinois University. He also won the Sagamore of the Wabash, Indiana's highest honor, for leading the effort to spearhead the restoration of the Grand Kankakee Marsh.
He also helped build up a well-respected local business that thrived while corporate competitors such as Gander Mountain and Cabela's have faltered, recently filing for bankruptcy or getting bought out, respectively.
Neeley wants to maintain the Blythe family's personal touch, saying he goes out on the sales floor at least once a day to listen to customers.
"Blythe's has been around for 65 years because they stayed close to their customers, and adapted their business to their customers," he said. "The big box stores lost touch with their customers."
He wants to add locations in the area over the next few years, but says growth will be slow and deliberate.
"We want to be integrated into the community as much as possible," he said. "We want to get to know people and how to serve them. We don't just want to do a copy-and-paste in different locations. We'll never grow faster than we can keep in touch. We want to know the local market."
Neeley also plans to add new products at the Blythe's stores, and has opened a new safe showroom in Valparaiso. He said he's committed to keeping a wide inventory and low prices.
“Many customers first visit us because of our low prices and then return because of our service,” he said. “Our commitment at Blythe’s is much more than merely earning your business, it’s to earn you as a customer and friend."