Decade after decade, for 60 to 70 hours a week, Bob Hart has dedicated his life to Al’s Sporting Goods, a downtown Wilmington mainstay since 1935.
“My dad passed away last year, he was still working at 92, for 78 years here, and in three hours people can ruin your business,” Hart reflected in an anguished tone that matched the devastation of his showroom floor ravaged by looters on Saturday night.
For generations, Al’s has been the place to go for team uniforms, trophies, and sneakers, weathering the continuous storms that have roiled the retail sector, from suburban malls to big box competitors to e-commerce.
In 2008 Al’s moved into a new 17,000 square foot building at 200 N. Market Street where a gating system failed to stop Saturday night’s looters, who caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage and stolen merchandise. Hart estimates 75 percent of clothing and footwear was destroyed or taken.
“I think they definitely needed more of a presence,” Hart said about police protecting Market Street businesses Saturday night. “I was young in 1968 with the riots and the National Guard were stationed in front of our store because we had shotguns and rifles back then, we weren’t touched.”
Hart says the community’s outpouring of support has been uplifting, “we’ve had schools who say they can bring in their whole football team to help us [clean up] but we haven’t taken them up on it.”
But that support may not be enough to keep Hart and Al’s in Wilmington.
“We’re definitely going to be here, be a business, whether it’s here, whether it’s in a suburban location, whether we just do team business instead of the retail,” said Hart.
“We’ve had to put $1.2 million into this,” Hart said, referring to costs of moving in 2008 as a result of a land swap involving city property.
Police have visited Al’s to view security camera footage taken Saturday night but no arrests have been made.