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Sales soar with Ravens' success for Owings Mills shop

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For Ravens fans hoping to attend the home opener against the Cleveland Browns Sept. 15 in full team gear, a stop a the Baltimore Sports & Novelty shop in Owings Mills might be the way to go.

Owner Jeffrey Katzen's store has it all.

From Ray Lewis or Joe Flacco bobblehead dolls that stand 3-feet from base to top of the head ($700 each), to a Ravens half-size refrigerator ($500), there are 1,500 different items — 75 precent of which is Ravens oriented — for sale.

Katzen also sells Tiffany lamp, bedding, rugs, kitchen drawer knobs, wind chimes, tables, bar stools, towels, sandwich boxes, magnet dartboards, desk sets and night lights, along with hundreds of other items, large and small, that feature either a Ravens or Baltimore Orioles motiff.

The store's inventory includes earrings, necklaces, pajamas and undergarments for women, and kids might want Legos and remote-controlled helicopters. The much younger set might enjoy pacifiers, bottles and bibs.

Jerseys that cost as much as $250 are the biggest seller while pencils ($1) and lip balm ($3) are relative bargains.

"You see purple and black everywhere. There's no store like this," said store manager Rhonda Andrews. "The first thing people say when they come in is 'Wow.' Between household items, outdoor stuff, car things and clothing, we've got it all."

Andrews says that, above all, she thinks of Katzen's 12-year-old business as being about family.

"I think what makes it unique is that we have (prominent Ravens) players who come here on a regular basis," she said. "Their wives come here, their families come here."

Katzen, a 51-year-old Pikesville resident, opened his 1,000-square-foot store in St. Thomas Shopping Center in April, 2002, seven days after the University of Maryland men's basketball team won a national championship.

Five years later, he moved next door to his current location, which is twice the size of the original store.

When the Ravens and the Orioles qualify for the playoffs, Katzen says there are lines out the door to enter the small, cluttered retail outlet.

On a weekday afternoon, a very busy Katzen chatted with a reporter as he sat behind the register helping a couple of customers find what they wanted. After ringing up sales, he resumed the conversation standing next to a rack of jerseys.

"This business is based on wins and losses," he said. "This is the first year we have really sold Orioles stuff. The Ravens have made the playoffs almost every year, except maybe twice, since we've been here. We are spoiled when it comes to January sales. We are doing business when everybody else is not doing business."

Lynette Gambino, a Hunt Valley resident who works at Advanced Radiology in Pikesville, is one of Baltimore Sports & Novelty's best customers.

She says she gets excited every time she visits the store and spends about $100 a month there.

"I stop in all the time," said Gambino, who has 20 different Ravens T-shirts in her closet. "I always say I spend too much when I come here, but I always want to be the best dressed at the games. I tell all my friends about the place and they all say 'Thank you, it's an awesome place.' I always tell them, 'Don't spend as much as me!'"

An even bigger spender is Pasadena resident Paul Federline. He estimates he drops $2,000 to $3,000 per season on all things Ravens, nearly all of it at Baltimore Sports & Novelty.

"I'm a Ravens maniac," he said. "I've got tables, chairs, rugs, pictures, knick-knacks ....Jeffrey has every Ravens thing they ever made, and if he doesn't have it, he'll get it for me. In the little square footage of area that he has, you have to walk through there probably five times to make sure you don't miss anything."

Katzen says he attributes his success — not to mention his ability to compete against large discount chains — is that he only sells the highest quality products, including T-shirts that run from $15 to $45.

"We have different things than they do," he said. "Their shirts are cheaper, of a cheaper quality. I've learned my lessons not to carry some of the stuff they carry. They have bobbleheads and they're starting to get more license plate frames Stores like mine are a dying breed, but people like coming here. They just can't keep going to Dick's (Sporting Goods), the Sports Authority and Models."

Katzen says his stock comes from about 100 different wholesale merchandisers, and he's always on the lookout for something new.

He said that NFL regulations prohibit him from selling or displaying certain items over the Internet.

"Our website is not the greatest because we can't put on-the-field (officially licensed) stuff when it comes to the NFL," he said. "They (the NFL) wants big business to do that, and they want a cut of it."

Katzens' family owned Oak Loom Clothes, an apparel manufacturing firm, specializing in men's suits and sports coats. He worked at Oak Loom for 12 years until it was sold in 1995.

After his family opened a retail store in Pikesville in 1998, Be Casual, that catered to a changing market by featuring men's casual clothing, the store began carrying a limited inventory of sports-themed merchandise.

"When the Ravens went to the Super Bowl, we decided to put more (sports apparel) in," Katzen explained. "Our accountant noticed the trends of the (sports) sales were going up. (The University of ) Maryland was good back then; they made the (basketball) final four, so we were selling Maryland stuff pretty good. I told my dad, you know, there's not many sports stores around."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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