Buzzer Sounds on Adams Sports

Nestled in between Parents Pride clothing store and Sonny's Pub, "It's a little piece of history," says Adams Sporting Goods manager Kevin McInnis. And now, the Adams Corner cornerstone and retail Dorchester bedrock is going the way of the set shot and the ballplayer with an off-season job.

After 30 years, Adams Sporting Goods is throwing in the towel.

The building in which it's housed, at 784 Adams Street, is being sold by owner Paul O'Brien, who opened the store with two partners in 1972. When Frank Dolan and George Doucette branched out to Weymouth and Pembroke, respectively, O'Brien stuck it out in Dorchester, outlasting his former partners and, until the shop closes for good in the next few months, ran the best-known sports store in town for parts of four decades.

The recognizable storefront will soon trumpet a salon, with the new tenants painting and glossing fingernails instead of sharpening hockey skates and peddling tennis shoes. And skate sharpening, McInnis says, has been Adams's calling card. A few weeks ago, a customer came in and bemoaned the store's closing; he'd been driving up from Plymouth to get his skates sharpened for years and was frustrated with having to find a new place.

Fluorescent sale tags, oversized, hang from baseball gloves and Adidas shell-toes. It's 20 percent off now, and McInnis says that number will climb as the store's final day approaches.

"This small sporting goods business is not what it once used to be," McInnis says.

The store's centerpiece is an aisle of hockey sticks, an alley lined on both sides by racks of wood and aluminum, southpaw and righty, goalie sticks and net-finders. Soon, that, too, will be gone.

'A little melting pot'

Joe Bennett has worked at Adams for six years, and knocks the puck around as a forward in the Neponset Men's League on the side. Along with John Wright, he helps McInnis run the show. Only half-ironically, Bennett says he'll miss the customers the most.

"The regulars," he smiles.

"I don't know yet," Bennett says when asked what he plans for the future. A Dorchester resident, from Rosemont Street, he says, "I'm looking at a few things."

McInnis has things mapped out; he'll work as equipment manager for the vaunted Harvard College hockey team, applying the same skate-sharpening skills he's honed over 26 years at Adams.

"People are gonna miss the repairs, the sharpening, the things a small store does for them that they're not gonna get at the Sports Authority or the MVPs," McInnis say.

And they've sharpened some famous skates, too. Teddy Donato, Chris O'Sullivan, Mike Eruzione's been in. McInnis remembers Donato when he was playing Mites as a six-year-old. Neighborhood skaters for the Neponset Men's League, hundreds of division one college kids, and thousands of division two and three players.

"I'm seeing kids that I fitted as kids bringing their kids in to get fitted," McInnis says. "Sometimes that's good, but most of the time I say, 'Oh my God.'"

"The whole thing was about the people," Paul O'Brien says. "I've had great people working for me and I've had great customers through the years."

O'Brien works for the lottery and lives in Braintree now, but he grew up in Dorchester and kept his store there when his partners moved their branches to the suburbs. A former hockey coach at puck factory Catholic Memorial, he also taught school at Winthrop High, with Eruzione as one of his pupils.

"It's about seeing people and families from over the years, growing up, from getting their first helmet or stick or skates, and growing to play high school and college and sometimes even pro.

"We've had so many great families over the years."

But the franchises and chains have driven out the small businesses, and when O'Brien talks about business prospects today, he says, "Young people go today without even thinking of a store like ours."

But, at its best, Adams was a common ground for burgeoning Boston athletes, O'Brien remembers.

"Kids from all over the different sections of the city would be able to come and see each other face-to-face whereas they might only see each other on the ice or the athletic fields. They'd come here and see that, even though they're from a different neighborhood, they're still pretty good kids.

"It was kind of a little melting pot."

'A piece of history'

Another staple of the Adams Sporting Goods business has been their vice-grip on the neighborhood-themed T-shirts. The "Dot Rat" shirts, the OFD shirts, and the Castle Island/Irish Riviera shirts are calling cards.

When word began leaking out that business was winding down, nostalgics bought the shirts with abandon, and McInnis and Bennett had to order more. The Dot Rat shirt, designed 20 years ago by Lisa LaMothe, has sold in the tens of thousands over the years, McInnis says.

Three weeks ago, a woman in Seattle called McInnis. She'd heard from a relative who said Adams was shutting its doors. Soon, a few OFD shirts were in a box and on their way to the Pacific Northwest.

And now the store has begun its closing sale, with merchandise at 20 percent off now, a price cut McInnis says will climb as the sale date, which O'Brien pegs as "before November," approaches.

"It's a little piece of history," McInnis says. A little piece of history that he estimates has employed 98 percent local kids over the year.

When the door's bolted for the last time, the storefront won't open again until it's home to Mimosa Nails, moving from down Gallivan. What's left will be a thousand softened hip checks and enough memories to full a lineup card.

"I guess I gotta grow up a little bit," O'Brien says. "And stop being a kid."