Coach's Corner: Play it again. And again.
The hardest part about visiting longtime Northbrook sporting goods store Play it Again Sports is first having to drive past the world-famous (on the North Shore, anyway) Max and Benny's restaurant. With a menu so extensive it almost needs an index, their matzo ball soup and yogurt banana pancakes get me every time, not to mention their bakery, which puts the capitol "F" on fresh.
But this story is not about bagels and bialys. It's about a sporting goods store that has been a fixture in Northbrook for more than two decades.
Play It Again Sports, in Northbrook's beautiful Brookside Plaza, right off Waukegan Road, has been of service to families in Northbrook and other nearby towns for many years now -- a true community icon and one that has stood the test of time.
For those not familiar with the "Play It Again philosophy," it is a sporting goods store that will buy and sell your used sports equipment -- either through trade, consignment or direct cash payments. The franchise, which began in Minnesota in 1993, fills a need for the many families that have kids who have outgrown perfectly good sports equipment and were looking for a way to either trade it in or exchange it for other equipment.
A win-win situation for both customer and consumer, it hit on a niche retail need, and has over the years expanded to numerous locations throughout the country.
Interestingly, the Northbrook location now has a new quarterback calling the signals. Kevin Mattingly took over as franchise owner about a year ago, and so far it has been a labor of love for him, despite the unfortunate timing.
"Yeah," Mattingly said with a laugh. "I officially closed the deal in December, and by March we had to completely shut down due to the pandemic. Not exactly ideal timing, but it worked out OK because I was able to update some of the computer systems and get things ready for reopen."
Mattingly's story is one of career change combined with a longtime passion for sports.
"I had never been in the retail field," says the new owner. "My career for many years was in human resources, but I was looking for a change and this opportunity came up. I had been a customer in the store for many years and knew it had a good reputation, so I decided to take a chance."
Mattingly had coached his kids in youth sports for years. He knew of the need to buy affordable sporting equipment and to be able to trade in perfectly good sportswear that his kids simply had outgrown. All part of the simple but effective philosophy behind Play It Again Sports.
And what better person to own it than one who was a longtime customer.
"I love it," Mattingly stated enthusiastically. "I enjoy getting to know the families, the kids and just being around so many great people has been a lot of fun. Sports has always been a passion of mine, so to have a career where I am able to indulge in this is so fortunate."
The store is open every day of the week, Sundays included, and also carries new sporting goods as well as the used variety. They cover just about every sport, and if there is something you need and can't find, Mattingly will search his extensive database to find it for you.
So now that the store has been open for awhile, how are things going? After all, many sports programs are still on hiatus due to virus restrictions, so that can't be great for business?
"We are doing much better," says the new store QB. "Some of the league business like hockey and baseball is naturally down, but there has been growth in other areas. Home fitness in particular has really exploded. People are building mini gyms in their own houses and looking for all kinds of equipment to outfit. Golf and cross-country skiing are a couple others that have been very active, as they are outdoors and safe to participate in. So overall we are back and doing quite well."
Good to hear, and good to know one of our favorite Northbrook stores remains in very good hands.
Remember, though, if you stop by and take a look be forewarned. You have to drive by the dangerously delicious and calorie-heavy Max and Benny's first.
• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan.