Turlock CA’s longtime business Bilson’s Sports Shop will close
After 66 years of being the place to go in Turlock for your first baseball glove, your new varsity jacket or your favorite hunting gear, Bilson’s Sports Shop is closing its doors.
The sporting goods and firearms retailer, which was first opened in Ceres by the late Bill Bilson in 1955, begins sale this week. The store moved to Turlock after about a dozen years and has occupied its bespoke two-story location on Lander Avenue since 1979.
The elder Bilson retired in 1997, when his son Brad Bilson and his friend Steve Moe bought the business from him. The couple have run the show for 25 years.
Bilson’s is one of a dying breed of full-service sporting goods retailers in the region, locally owned and operated by hunting and sporting enthusiasts who have tried almost everything they sell. They have served generations of customers and have said that it is these interactions that they will miss the most.
“We never want people to feel like a number here,” Bilson said. “It’s something that’s ingrained in me as a member of the community. We have made many friendships with customers over the years, many friendships.
Gun sales tough in the state
But they said there were other aspects of the business they would miss less – and contributed to their decision to close. Bilson said it has become too difficult to be a gun retailer in California, which has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country.
That, combined with the hit to their sales of school-related sporting goods and apparel during the pandemic and continued competition from big-box retailers, signaled it was simply time to stop. Moe said recent supply chain issues have also made their headaches worse.
“It’s frustrating when someone wants to buy a product but we just can’t get it,” Moe said. “Every industry has been impacted” by pandemic-related supply chain issues.
Bilson and Moe said guns could account for between 60% and 40% of their sales, which flip-flops with their school athletics sales depending on the season. But recent changes, including fines ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 for filling out paperwork incorrectly, have made their job less fun. This, Bilson said, simply went against their unofficial motto, “We sell fun.”
Bilson’s official motto, “The Store for All Seasons”, meant it was the place to go for everything from new life jackets for the boating season to ski gear, hunting guns, baseball uniforms, athletic shoes and more.
The shop thrived on special orders and loyal customers
Bilson said they’ve always prided themselves on hiring people who have a deep understanding of the sports, recreational activities and other gear they sell. But, he said, increases in the state’s minimum wage have also increased their labor costs. And they haven’t been able to raise prices to compensate for that because of corporate competition. Previously, the store had 12 employees and now employs about half of them.
Like its former Modesto-based counterpart, Valley Sporting Goods, which closed in 2012 after 65 years in business, Bilson’s found the fun had gotten tougher. Bilson and Moe credit their success in today’s Amazon world to their expertise and ability to meet customer needs. This includes the timely completion of a complicated custom order, such as uniforms and equipment for an entire team.
Business Partners are committed to fulfilling all of their existing custom team orders regardless of where they are in the closing process.
Their huge end-of-business sale will begin on Wednesday, June 22, for invite-only customers, then open to the general public on Thursday. Bilson and Moe have hired a third-party company to handle the clearance sale, and everything down to the fixtures is up for grabs. Discounts will be set to start at up to 50% off.
Due to the outside company’s involvement, Bilson said the best way to find out what’s on sale and when certain items are discounted is to go to bilsonsports.com and sign up to receive discounts. email updates. Registration also gives customers access to Wednesday’s preview event, which will run from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Clearance sale expected to last ‘weeks’
The rest of the end-of-business sale from Thursday will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily (except Sundays, when they are closed).
They don’t know how long the sale will last, with the best estimate at “weeks”. Once complete, they plan to rent out the 7,200 square foot building, which the Bilson family owns. Both men are also considering their next steps.
Moe has already moved to Idaho, and Bilson said he hopes to move to what he considers a more “business-friendly” state in the near future. After that, who knows, the two men said they might even consider opening small sports shops separately elsewhere.
But before they left, Bilson said he was particularly proud that his 14-year-old daughter was also able to work in the shop, as she was sorting out upcoming items this week. His employment complements three generations of Bilsons who all got their start at the store.
“We always wanted people to feel like family here,” Bilson said. “We know of grandmothers who bought her letterman jackets here and their sons bought their letterman jackets here and now their grandkids buy letterman jackets here. We appreciate everyone who has supported us all these years. We have had extremely loyal customers and I have received so many hugs recently.
For more information, visit bilsonsports.com or call 209-634-4543.