Lacrosse retailer LAX World shutters stores and leaves Cockeysville headquarters

Lacrosse retailer LAX World has closed all 16 of its stores, including the original Towson location, and shut down its corporate headquarters in Cockeysville.

The chain, started in 1988 as the nation’s first store dedicated to the growing sport, had been expanding since being sold four years ago by founder Jim Darcangelo to a LAX World executive and two former Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc. executives.

Besides Towson, it operated stores in Annapolis, Timonium, Ellicott City and Bel Air, and in Virginia, New York, Georgia, Colorado and Washington state.

As of Thursday, all stores were closed, but the website appeared to be taking new orders.

CEO Frank Barbarino and the company are facing numerous lawsuits from landlords and vendors, according to court records. The company has vacated its warehouse and headquarters in Cockeysville, where doors are locked and an eviction petition from Baltimore County District Court hangs on the door. It says the company owes more than $11,200.

Barbarino did not respond to requests for comment Thursday, and his attorney, Douglas H. Seitz, declined to comment.

Barbarino, a former senior vice president of merchandising for Jos. A. Bank, bought LAX World in 2013 with Bobby Martino, who had been with LAX World for more than two decades, and Michael Stewart, a former Jos. A. Bank vice president of planning.

At the time, the owners said they hoped to capitalize on lacrosse’s mushrooming popularity to launch a national expansion, with plans to open 40 to 50 stores in existing and new markets over five to six years. They also planned to expand online and in wholesale channels. The wholesale business several years ago accounted for 45 percent of sales and targeted lacrosse programs and teams.

Joe Desimone, founder and president of rival lacrosse retailer Lacrosse Unlimited, which has 44 stores in 12 states, said he looked to LAX World as a model when he founded his business as a 22-year-old in Long Island, N.Y., in 1990, two years after LAX World got its start. For many years, the two retailers agreed not to open stores in each other’s home states, Desimone said. Lacrosse Unlimited moved into the Baltimore area in 2011 and now has stores in Annapolis, Bel Air and Timonium.

Specialty retailers in the lacrosse space have faced increased competition from online sellers and big sports apparel brands such as Nike, Adidas and Reebok are becoming more involved in the sport, Desimone said.

“The lacrosse market has been a tough market the last couple of years, with a lot of retailers and vendors getting into it,” Desimone siad. “Our business is not the same as it was. You have to evolve.”

Those factors might have influenced LAX World’s troubles, Desimone said.

The flagship store in Towson, in The Shops at Kenilworth, closed in September, said Michelle J. Schiffer, a spokeswoman for mall owner Greenberg Gibbons.

The Bel Air store, in Harford Mall, closed in May. Its landlord, Harford Mall Business Trust, was awarded a judgment for $27,880 in unpaid rent in Harford County District Court in June.

The LAX World in Ellicott City, at 3410 Plumtree Drive, closed in July. Its landord, King Family Properties, said in a lawsuit in Howard County Circuit Court in September that LAX World owes $60,330 in past-due rent, penalties and interest.

LAX World also owes Champion Sports Products Inc. $31,489 for four invoices for merchandise from January and February, according to a lawsuit Champion filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court last month.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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