After looting, iconic Wilmington store is again in enterprise

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For 43 years Al’s Sporting Goods owner, Bob Hart, has worked in the shop 60-70 hours a week. Now, after a closure due to looting, he’s back. Additional video by John J. Jankowski Jr./Special to News Journal.

Delaware News Journal

The 85-year-old Al’s Sporting Goods will reopen Monday, 51 days after looters ransacked and stole merchandise from the iconic Market Street shop in the midst of a citywide protest sparked by the killing of George Floyd.

Owner Bob Hart, the second generation of the Hart family to run the downtown Wilmington store that first opened during the Great Depression, will run a “mega clearance sale” that will discount nearly every item in the store by 10% to 70%.

The store will be open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. And, yes, some of the boards will be taken down from the windows for the first time since the store was looted.

So, what does this sale mean for the future of Al’s? Is this clearance of the merchandise left in the store by the looters a final sale? Not quite.

“We’re definitely not closing, but we’re looking at all options still about whether to stay here or whether to move,” Hart said Friday morning from his gleaming, neatly organized showroom, which was anything but after the break-in on May 30.

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Al’s Sporting Goods in downtown Wilmington will reopen on Monday, 51 days after the store was looted during protests against the killing of George Floyd. (Photo: Jenna Miller/Delaware News Journal)

Looters took merchandise and left other goods, glass and displays strewn across the 17,000-square-foot shop, located at Second and North Market streets.

Al’s has been at been its current location since 2008. And at that time, Hart made the decision to stay in downtown Wilmington instead of moving out to the suburbs. 

The day after the looting, general manager David McVey was left stunned. “I didn’t think it would get to this level that it did,” he told the media.

About 75% of the store’s clothing and footwear was either stolen or ruined, including about 5,000 pairs of sneakers, Hart says.

The retail shop not only sells sneakers, clothing and sporting equipment, but it’s a go-to spot for its team department, supplying uniforms for Little Leagues, high schools, colleges and more. In fact, that part of the business has carried on over the past 1½ months, keeping the store afloat since it accounts for about 60% of the store’s sales.

Al’s Sporting Goods in Wilmington after looters struck May 30. (Photo: PWIL)

With those sales and government coronavirus relief funds, Hart has been able to retain all of his nearly 20 employees and paid them in full while they rebuilt the store, except for a short time when wages were cut to 80% directly after the incident.

With Al’s being a beloved store so important to the community for such a long time, the owners and employees weren’t alone in being upset after that night.

The next day, a customer was standing outside in the middle of Market Street, clearly disgusted. “It’s crazy. Al’s? Eighty-five years in Wilmington,” he yelled to Delaware Online/The News Journal cameras outside the freshly looted store on May 31. 

51 DAYS AGO: Wilmington assesses damage inflicted by George Floyd protests Saturday night

Now that it’s time to reopen, customers are ready to show support again. The store’s Facebook post announcing the reopening elicited a wave of encouragement.

 “True Delaware icon store!!! Welcome back!” wrote one customer. “My face will be in the place!” added another.

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Al’s Sporting Goods took a lot of damage during Saturday night’s riot.

Delaware News Journal

The day after the looting, loyal customers showed up at Hart’s shop to help start cleaning up, both inside and out. So did employees and their families. It’s that kind of support during a tough time that you remember for a lifetime. And that’s one of the reasons why Monday will be a big day at Al’s.

Usually a calm figure, Hart admits he was shaking with disgust at home the night of the looting. He had a lot more than money invested there. (He declined to put a price tag on the amount of merchandise lost, but said about 40% of his inventory was taken.)

His father, Stan, started working at Al’s in 1942, eventually buying it with a partner in 1967. Hart was only 12 when he started working there with his dad and built his life around it, working there 43 years now and often putting in 60- to 70-hour six-day weeks. He bought his father’s partner out in 1984.

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Bob Hart poses for a photo in his downtown Wilmington store, Al’s Sporting Goods. The local fixture will re-open on Monday, 51 days after it was looted during protests against the killing of George Floyd. (Photo: Jenna Miller/Delaware News Journal)

Stan, known to some as “Mr. Al,” died last year at the age of 92, bringing an end to his remarkable 77-year career at the store.

“Al’s is really my life … I put in a lot of years and in three hours it can be gone,” said Hart, who now spends his time looking to the future and staying positive. “I’m excited (for Monday). It will be good to see our customers and friends again.”

Got a tip? Contact Ryan Cormier of The News Journal at rcormier@delawareonline.com or (302) 324-2863. Follow him on Facebook (@ryancormier), Twitter (@ryancormier) and Instagram (@ryancormier).

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