A new racket store in Williamsville sells pickleball paddles, fitness apparel and more than 30 kinds of athletic shoes. It plans to add racquetball, badminton and squash gear to its inventory later this year.
Still, a lot of what you’ll see for sale at Courtside Outfitters will look familiar to those who flocked to the same spot for the last quarter century, when it was called JB’s Tennis Shop.
That includes co-managers Phil Primerano and Lisa Noworyta.
“Changing the name to Courtside kind of opens it up,” Noworyta said. “It wasn't just tennis before but people kind of thought that.”
John and Holly Brunner bought the storefront at Main Street and North Cayuga Road in 1994. Primerano started stringing rackets for the couple two years later, when he was a Sweet Home High School senior and accomplished regional racquetball player.
Noworyta – a former tennis star at Cheektowaga High School and the University at Buffalo – started work after graduating with a business degree from UB in 2004, the same year the Brunners moved to Atlanta so John, a tennis pro and coach, could continue that part of his career in a larger region.
The couple continued to own the business until they sold it last November to Jim Shunk, owner of online T-shirt company Empire Tees, who put $20,000 into renovations and asked the managers to keep running the place and changed the name. Courtside opened just before Christmas.
Q: Why should people take up racket sports?
Primerano: It's great for the cardiovascular system. It works every single muscle group. It's competitive. It works your brain. I can't run on a treadmill. I find it boring.
Noworyta: There's the social aspect of it, too. Pickleball is a great example of that.
Q: What were some of the most important things you decided to keep the same?
Primerano: The inventory and staff. JB's Tennis had a great local contingent of people would come in here constantly to have us string rackets. We stock every major racket company out there in tennis. For pickleball, we do the same.
Q: What are the biggest changes folks can expect?
Primerano: It’s a totally revamped store. We used to have more walls and a set of different rooms. Now, it's totally open. We have a lot more room. It's brighter and we put in new lights, new floor, new ceiling.
Noworyta: People say, "Wow, it looks great in here," but they still have that level of comfort knowing they can still do demo rackets, they can still come and say, “Do you know that pair of shoes I got? I want the same kind,” or, “String my racket the same way.” We have a very good database with that information.
Q: You let customers take a racket or paddle home to try?
Primerano: You can rent one for $1.50 per day. It's a great service to offer to customers … especially when you're making an investment.
Q: Do pickleball customers who come in tend to be older and say “I played tennis my whole life, but I've had a knee replaced,” or something like that? Are some of them younger?
Noworyta: Some of each. It’s kind of neat to see that lots of people can do it. There are kids who are playing in high schools, and in town programs during the summer.
Primerano: It translates well from other racket sports but we have people who come in who've never picked up a racket in their life. They buy a beginner racket and they just have a ball playing.
Q: Why buy a racket or related gear in a store and not online?
Primerano: A lot of people come in here not knowing what they want and that's where Lisa and I and the three part-time employees who work here can help. We'll spend half an hour with a person when we first start talking to them about rackets. It's a process to figure out what kind of demos they want, what kind of player they are.
Noworyta: We go through their swing style; rackets are heavily based on that. If they swing real fast, they need a racket for faster-swinging players. If they swing very, very slow, they need a racket that gives them more power.
Q: Sales tax has been a big selling point online but now companies are supposed to charge sales tax online.
Primerano: We're sitting at around 10% of our business online. We still have a large local contingent, but now with Jim's expertise as an online business owner, that number will probably go up in the next few years.
We'll price lower on major things – rackets, shoes, some apparel – to accommodate in-store for sales tax. We usually price our rackets about maybe 8 or 9% lower than online. We have to buy what's called an iMAP (minimum advertised price) policy; they make us sell for a certain amount online, the vendors do.
Q: Which one of you is a better tennis player?
Primerano: If I were to go against Lisa, she would manhandle me.
Noworyta: With racquetball, I wouldn't even step on the court with Phil.
Q: Lisa, your sons are 6½ and 2½, a little young to have chosen their favorite sports. Phil, your kids are 9 and almost 12. Do they play racket sports?
Primerano: My daughter's a very good softball player and she plays basketball. My son plays a lot of hockey and baseball. Neither of them got into racket sports – and I could have hooked them up with a good deal on a racket.
Courtside Outfitters, at 5538 Main St., is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.