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The Times Shopper: Denver

Having a Sporting Good Time in the Rockies

May 24, 1987|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York free-lance writer .

Colorado's mountain scenery is magnificent. Legions of sports enthusiasts and devotees of the outdoor life come from around the world to enjoy the breathtaking sights, along with the excellent skiing, camping, fishing and other activities the state provides.

For these adventure seekers, Denver serves as a convenient base camp, a place to acquire the necessary equipment before setting out for the wilds. The city has an extensive collection of sporting-goods stores. In fact, Denver has more sporting-goods shops per capita than any other city in the country.

Among the many, Gart Bros.' Sportscastle is a standout.

The store claims to be the world's largest sporting-goods emporium. It has a large and loyal clientele, which includes Gerald Ford, Clint Eastwood, Jack Kemp and other prominent members of the fit-and-famous set. But it's the sizable local following that has given Sportscastle a reputation as the best sporting-goods store in town.

Gart Bros.' Sportscastle occupies a seven-story building at Broadway and 10th Street. The selling space totals about 100,000 square feet. The building's facade has baroque-like masonry spires. Calling the place a castle on the basis of its architecture may be an exaggeration. It is, however, a place where the sportsman is treated like a king.

Gart Bros. makes every attempt to offer customers the most gracious service, the biggest selection of goods and the best prices. The Sportscastle is almost as much of a sportsman's paradise as Colorado's great outdoors.

When you step through Gart Bros.' doors, you encounter salespeople ready to show you through the store. The Sportscastle is well organized, but customers rely on the guidance of salespeople because the store is so large and has so much merchandise in so many departments.

The Sportscastle has simulated golf driving ranges and ski slopes, two official-size tennis courts and other activity areas, so customers can try out equipment before buying it.

The Sportscastle has no elevators, but the building, which used to be an automobile dealership showroom, has ramps between floors.

Those who don't want to climb up the ramps can ride to the next level on one of the store's "ski lifts." These are modified golf carts that go up and down the "slopes" at frequent intervals, toting customers and merchandise.

The first floor, the Broadway Level, features a camera and video department. Since many outdoors buffs are interested in photography, the Sportscastle offer the most complete selection of equipment in the Denver area.

The Broadway Level also has supplies for fishermen and hunters, plus a gift department with useful things for sportsmen: shatterproof sunglasses ($35 and up) by Revo, Vuarnet, Bolle and other manufacturers; beeping key chains; elegant flasks and practical canteens; luggage and carryalls to fit all types of sports equipment; hats ($15 and up), scarfs and flack jackets for fishermen or photographers ($40 and up).

One section is the sniagrab (bargains spelled backwards), with a big selection of sale items that change with the seasons. Spring is a good time to buy ski clothes and equipment; swimwear and tennis clothes are on sale during the fall. In addition, there are regularly scheduled sales (with up to 50% discounts), including the Spring Tee-Off for golf and tennis togs and equipment, and an annual Labor Day ski sale.

The second floor, the Green Level, has an array of golf clubs, balls and clothes, tennis and racquetball rackets and togs, and bowling equipment.

Level three, the Red Level, has the ski shop, with every brand name in skis, boots and bindings, and the latest American and some European ski fashions. The department's salespeople are all qualified skiers and they make adjustments for you while you try out equipment on the simulated ski slope. It's actually a perpetually moving rug on rollers, but it serves its purpose, and allows the shop's resident pros to give ski lessons ($60 for five sessions) and clinics to customers.

The Gold Level, fourth floor, has footwear, from track and tennis shoes to hip-high rubber boots and hiking boots. The team sports department outfits Little League teams, plus school and company teams around the country. Uniforms for swimming, football, baseball and softball, basketball, soccer, lacrosse and other sports are available.

The Gold Level also has bicycles, ranging from sturdy dirt bikes to sleek racers, and home exercise equipment, including exercise bicycles, rowers, weight-training centers and treadmills. The prices are quite competitive. For example, Weslo's Jogging Trampoline is $20, Precor's 6.4 Rower is $450, Marcy's Easy Rider module is $220 and Lifecycle Whisper 9000 is $2,095. If a purchase is too heavy or bulky to carry home, Gart Bros. ships.

Next is the White Level, with complete tent setups, sleeping bags, camping equipment and accessories for cold or warm climates. This level also has inflatable boats, canoes and shells.

The roof is the seventh floor, or Blue Level. It has two official-size tennis courts, where resident pros give tennis lessons and clinics. The roof also offers a magnificent view of the Denver skyline and surrounding mountains.

The Sportscastle became Gart Bros.' headquarters in 1971. Before that, founder and family patriarch Nate Gart had been retailing sporting goods in another location since 1928. Gart Bros. is now run by Nate's son, Jerry Gart, and his three sons, brother and uncle.

Recently, Gart Bros. has opened 17 branch stores throughout Colorado, and the company will open its first out-of-state outlet in Salt Lake City.

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