THUNDER BAY -- Thunder Bay’s Play It Again Sports store has been around for a quarter of a century - Kelly Mallon started the store with his father in 1995. Shortly after, Mike Fonso came on board - a new graduate from Lakehead University with a teaching license, he faced a hiring freeze that left him no possibility of finding a job as a teacher, even as a supply teacher.
“I needed something to do so I applied for a job here. Within nine months I bought into the company,” says Fonso.
Now the store is owned by Kelly Mallon, his brother Jason Mallon, and Fonso. Kelly Mallon also owns Mallon’s Promotional Clothing and Products, and Jason Mallon is a realtor, so Fonso manages the day-to-day operations of the store.
The store was originally further down Memorial, located in the little mall where Exquisite Gold and Gems is. From a 2,500 square foot space, they expanded to 4,400 square feet, then moved to its current location on 920 Memorial, where they had 12,000 square feet. The store kept on expanding, and currently occupies 18,000 square feet. including storage space.
“We really try to be everything to everybody, make sure we service all of their needs,” says Fonso. Play It Again Sports in Thunder Bay sells both used and new hockey and golf equipment, gear for team sports such as baseball, basketball, lacrosse, volleyball and soccer and individual sports such as tennis, squash and badminton. The store also carries running footwear, clothing and fitness equipment.
Prior to COVID19 restrictions, the store had five full-time employees and about 30 part time employees. As a non-essential business, the store closed its doors to the public, but takes orders by phone and email and do deliveries and curbside pick-ups.
“Gyms were one of the first things that shut down, so as soon as that happened, I got on the phone with my supplier and we placed a couple of fairly large orders. Thank goodness we did, because that’s what’s paying our rent now,” Fonso says. People are exercising at home now with kettle bells, benches, medicine balls and weights, and when a big order comes in, half of it is already spoken for, he says.
Fonso credits the growth and success of his store to Thunder Bay’s unique location. “It’s not a big city but we’re not a small city either. It’s a really unique marketplace where we’re not big enough for big single sports stores like Golf Town or Pro Hockey Life.”
Continually diversifying the products he carries has allowed the store to capture a large segment of the market in Thunder Bay and grow over the years. “There are 440 Play It Agains in North America,” Fonso says. “We’re number two. In Canada we’re number one.”