Opened in 1971, South Windsor Arena/Hockey 1 has grown from a winter-only skating facility with a tiny skate-sharpening room to a year-round rink with a 30,000-square-foot store, a restaurant and a warehouse. | Owners Leonard and Steve Grigorian, 53 and 52, respectively, move "several million dollars" worth of hockey equipment annually through walk-in and online business, as well as by serving as a distributor for about 500 independently owned hockey shops.| For seven years, the rink was the practice facility for the Hartford Whalers and visiting NHL teams, and the shop outfitted fan favorites like Kevin Dineen. | Ike and Tina Turner played the arena in the summer of 1975.
Q: You bill yourself as the largest-grossing, single-outlet independent hockey store in the nation. That's a mouthful. How is the income divided between foot traffic, Internet and wholesaling?
A: Steve: They're all about equal, one-third of the business each. We've had the website ( www.hockey1.com) since 1996, and we started a catalog in 1990.
They were ways to expand our business without adding to our overhead. That was an early start for a website; there were very few Internet hockey sites. We started wholesaling first, about 25 years ago. We always had a big inventory, and people running other shops knew us, and when they needed stuff, they knew we'd have it. It's a small community, hockey shop people.
Q: Are hockey sales recession-proof? Are hockey players even aware we've been in a recession?
A: Leonard: I'd say we're flat now because of the economy. We haven't seen a decrease, though.
You're going to sell stuff to hockey players right along, but they may compromise the dollar amount they spend.
Steve: The existing business is one thing, but we're actively involved in learn-to-skate programs at rinks across the country to keep the numbers of people coming up in hockey. We provide packages of equipment at a reasonable price through school systems, youth hockey associations and recreation departments.
The Whalers were our partners in this initially because they knew their fan base depended on hockey people. We've been doing this for more than 30 years.
Q: I see from your catalog that a stick can cost more than $200, a pair of skates can run $650 and a retro Whalers jersey costs $100. How much does the whole shooting match cost: pads, jersey, gloves etc.? Give me the middle-of-the-road price for the total hockey ensemble, which some people refer to as "the tools of ignorance."
A: Leonard: For the little guys, you can spend a couple hundred bucks, head to toe. High school-age kids, you could spend $600 to $1,000.
Steve: That number might scare people, but most of that stuff is going to fit somebody for a while. We specialize in having a wide variety of items at every price level. If you want to buy your kid the best stuff, we have it. But for each item there are five or six different price points to choose from.
Q: Is hockey thriving despite its high cost relative to other sports, like basketball or badminton?
A: Leonard: If you've been in hockey, if you know hockey, those guys tend to play hockey until they can't walk anymore. Once you've gotten involved, you stick with it.
Q: Interacting with hockey players every day, year after year, do you still have all of your original teeth?
A: Steve: I don't but it's not from hockey. It's sugar.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun