Stark’s Sport Shop to host 75th anniversary event

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Randy, Deidre, Alex and Ron Stark are the third and fourth generations who run Stark’s Sport Shop today. Deidre is holding an old cream can, which was used to transport cream from the creamery to the sweet shop owned by Frank Stark in the late '30s/early '40s. (Photo by Ted Pennekamp)

Frank Stark (left) and an unidentified man stand inside of the former Stark’s Sport Shop at 106 W. Blackhawk Ave. They are dressed in period attire to celebrate Villa Louis Days. Stark’s was at 106 W. Blackhawk Ave. from 1944 to 1955.

In 1954, Richard Stark, service manager of Stark’s Sport Shop, examines the new 5.5 horsepower outboard that won the National Noise Abatement Council’s Certificate of Merit for quiet operation. The photo was taken at the Waukegan, Ill. Johnson Motors factory, where Dick was specially trained in outboard mechanics.

This is the view from inside the store in 1957 at its current location.

 

By Ted Pennekamp

 

On Sept. 14, Stark’s Sport Shop of Prairie du Chien will be hosting its 75th Anniversary Celebration from noon until 4 p.m. with several fun activities for the whole family.

There will be many activities outside including live music by Smoking Gun Showdown, bounce houses for children, a kids’ casting contest run by the Prairie Rod and Gun Club, a fishing seminar at 2 p.m. by 2018 Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame inductee Pat Neu, face painting, caricatures by John Mundt, a Knights of Columbus food stand behind the store, the Rivers and Bluffs Animal Shelter, and a bake sale by the Women of ELCA (St. Peter’s). Inside the store, there will be a silent auction to benefit the Rivers and Bluffs Animal Shelter, as well as free in-store tastings.

“We will have something for everyone,” said Stark’s President Randy Stark.

Stark’s Sport Shop was founded by Randy and Ron Stark’s grandfather, Frank Stark who started a sweet shop in Prairie du Chien in 1937 on South Wacouta Street. The shop was a soda fountain-type business that served ice cream, malts, soda, candy and other sweet treats as well as sandwiches.

“My grandfather made the ice cream, the malts and everything else,” said Randy.

In 1940, the sweet shop moved to just west of Panka’s Shoe Store, 205 E. Blackhawk Ave. During the years of World War II, rationing was in effect for many items such as sugar, making it difficult to run a sweet shop. So, in 1944, Stark’s Sport Shop began business at 106 W. Blackhawk Ave. In 1955, Stark’s moved to its current location at 119 W. Blackhawk Ave. where it has been serving the needs of Prairie du Chien area customers ever since.

The fact that Prairie du Chien is a river town and that Frank was an avid hunter, angler and outdoorsman, made it quite natural that he start up a sport shop.

Randy said the shop has adapted in a variety of ways to meet marketplace trends over the years. In the 1960s, in addition to outdoor gear, Stark’s sold numerous other items and had a toy section during the Christmas season. The store was one of the area’s largest Honda motorcycle dealerships for more than 20 years, starting in the 1970s. Stark’s was the third largest Honda dealership in the world in 1972. They stopped selling motorcycles in 1987.

Stark’s now sells new and used boats, motors, trailers, canoes and accessories from an ever-expanding marine line and is one of the largest marine outfits in the country. Stark’s is a large volume dealer representing the best products in the fishing boat industry, including Mercury and Yamaha outboards, Shorelander trailers, Alumacraft boats and canoes, Crestliner boats and War Eagle custom built hunting and fishing boats.

Stark’s also offers a variety of fishing tackle, hunting gear and accessories as well as a wide array of other outdoor merchandise.

The store has a full parts and service department along with  a very knowledgeable staff who are avid hunters, anglers and outdoorsmen.

A display of several mounts at the front of the store, including an iconic polar bear, has drawn the attention of customers for several decades. 

“We had a customer just the other day tell his grandson, ‘My grandpa showed this to me, and now I’m showing it to you,’” said Randy. “We are on at least our fourth generation of customers.” The trophies in the display and throughout the store include moose, elk, brown bear, salmon, dolphin, a shark and a variety of other animals, fish and game birds.

Stark’s also has been one of the area’s largest liquor retailers for a number of years. They offer a wide variety of spirits, including an extensive wine list.

Frank Stark passed down his love of the outdoors to his son Dick and, in turn, to his grandsons Randy and Ron. In its fourth generation, Stark’s is now run by Randy, Ron, Randy’s wife Deidre, and their son Alex.

There are approximately 20 knowledgeable employees at Stark’s. “We’ve been blessed with wonderful people,” said Randy. “There have been many who worked here for more than 20 years. Several retired from here and some worked for more than 30 years.”

“We’re all like family,” said Deidre.

The Stark family has enjoyed its loyal base of customers over the decades.

“Our customers turn into friends and family. We couldn’t be here without them,” said Randy. 

“We pride ourselves on customer service,” said Ron. “We know a lot of our customers on a first name basis.”

The Stark’s 75th Anniversary Celebration is bound to be a great time. Alex said more details and updates can be found on the Stark’s Facebook page.

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