Logan StoryCorps: The Sportsman's small business survival story
This week, siblings Kristan Fjelsted and Mark Fjelsted talk about the challenges and rewards of operating a small family business in downtown Logan.
MARK FJELDSTED: We are going to talk about The Sportsman from when it began by our grandparents Jack and Lucille Croft, and they began it in 1947. Kristan and I are in the business as partners and family members in our 76th year.
KRISTAN FJELDSTED: The store started on West Center Street in Logan — a little tiny building actually across from the bus station. And then about 1964 we moved to our current location on Main Street. I think it was about that time that our parents Russ and Barbara Fjelsted eventually bought out the other partners of my mother's family.
MARK FJELDSTED: And our grandfather was a huge hunter and fisherman and was into the side of outdoor sports. And that was what they sold. And then they came on some hard times. That was when Grandma said, "Why don't you sell clothing?" And our understanding is that the clothing side of things is what saved the business. And it's interesting because that's been our model ever since then. We stuck with the ski, bike, hike-type side of the outdoor sports.
KRISTAN FJELDSTED: I started working when I was 14. And Grandmother taught me how to gift wrap. And I remember being petrified because she wanted the boxes perfect. We didn't waste one inch of paper. We didn't waste one inch of tape or ribbon. Because they came from the Depression era and you didn't waste anything.
MARK FJELDSTED: You remember the three piece of tape wrap?
KRISTAN FJELDSTED: Yeah, you got three pieces.
MARK FJELDSTED: I started working there when I was in high school. And at that time, Mom and Dad had also had purchased The Art Stop, which is the building directly to the north. So this was the mid 80s. Then at that time, we opened the store in the mall.
KRISTAN FJELDSTED: I remember when the mall was going to go in that Dad came to work hunched over, because he was sure we were going to be out of business. A man by the name of John Price opened all these malls in Utah about that timeframe. And it started to deteriorate most of the downtowns in all across the country. And that's why I think eventually he got The Sportsman in the mall, which was a big problem because it was extremely expensive.
MARK FJELDSTED: After they moved in, actually, he started to try to figure out a way to get out of the lease.
KRISTAN FJELDSTED: Immediately — wrote letters to John Price daily. We got out of the mall lease probably four or five years later.
MARK FJELDSTED: I think it's important to talk about Kris, just before that time, clothing in the 60s and 70s kind of evolved into more of a Western vibe.
KRISTAN FJELDSTED: There was a big Western swing in the country and I know Steve and Scott and my dad all wore Western clothing. I mean, they were hats and the Western boots. It was huge. And then all of a sudden it was dead, a big Western store opened. And then we lost a lot of the market on that. So we had to kind of reinvent ourselves. And then we started getting smaller lines.
MARK FJELDSTED: Which made it an easier transition for us once all those challenges of the mall and national chains kind of came in. We were well positioned to be different late 80s, early 90s. And we started really finding more of a niche in the outdoor industry.
KRISTAN FJELDSTED: We thought we'd be out of business when the malls came in. We thought we'd be out of business worse when the box stores came in.
MARK FJELDSTED: What we've learned is that those things have almost made us stronger.
KRISTAN FJELDSTED: Yeah, yeah we're still here.
MARK FJELDSTED: I mean, I think we can say that.
KRISTAN FJELDSTED: We've outlived all of that.
MARK FJELDSTED: Nowadays with the pandemic so many people wondered how local business and small business would survive through the pandemic. And actually, in our case, the pandemic made us a lot stronger.
KRISTAN FJELDSTED: Made us stronger. Yeah. We heard the governor say only essential businesses can stay open. And you said, "What do you think?" I go, "We are totally essential! People will have to go outside," and our business sends people outside. If we'd have shut our business, we probably couldn't have made it, but we stayed open and we didn't close one minute or one day. We're grateful that we have a great workforce and we've hired our own children and we're really richly blessed in the family business.
MARK FJELDSTED: So it's unfortunate that our dad who spent so much time at the store — he was also the mayor of Logan in the early 90s. He just passed away on April 5 of this year. He would have loved to have sat here, and just told about this and his experience with the business. He just missed it by just a few weeks,
KRISTAN FJELDSTED: Which also says something about our loyal customers all these years that have kept us in business and love to come in our store and have seen their kids come in. I hear people walking down in the basement saying, "When I was a kid, my dad brought me in here to rent skis. And now I'm bringing you in here to rent skis."
MARK FJELDSTED: We offer an experience for sure, which is so different and we're very blessed to be able to do that. Yep, I agree.
Following Russell Fjeldsted's passing in April, Barbara Croft Fjeldsted joined him in August of this year, just five months later. Their legacy continues for generations to come.