By NOAH BUHAYAR
Last fall a police officer responded to a complaint about loud dog barking coming from the yellow house at 2773 21st Street. The disturbance amounted to little. But the officer noticed that the garage door was open. Inside were stacks of shoe boxes, a clothing rack with jerseys, and another wall lined with cleats, shin guards and soccer balls.
A store in the middle of a residential block? Was it legitimate?
José Guzmán, the owner, showed the officer around the sporting goods shop he started in his garage to provide quality soccer equipment to Mission youth at affordable prices. He also pointed to the resale tax license from the City of San Francisco hanging on the wall near the counter.
“This cop said, ‘I can’t believe it. I gotta buy something for my wife,’” said Guzmán, retelling the story on a recent afternoon. The officer purchased two pairs of sandals.
Now entering its 15th year of operation, Guzmán’s Soccer Shop is dedicated to filling a niche—both literally and figuratively. The store has become an essential outfitter for many Latino youth soccer teams and a neighborhood hub for watching professional games on TV. Along the way the owner has found that providing something a little unexpected has been good for business, too.
In the early 1990s, said Guzmán, there were few places in the Mission to buy decent cleats for a reasonable price. Most neighborhood kids got stuck with hand-me-downs or a cheap pair that wore out quickly.
Guzmán, whose three boys all play soccer, was coaching a few teams at the time and could see the need for a local sporting goods store. In the last 20 years, he explained, Latino youth teams have exploded in number from four to 100. “And that’s just in the Mission,” he added.
He opened up his garage for business.
Getting the permits turned out to be the easy part. Within a day he acquired a reseller’s license and an insurance policy.
Sourcing merchandise was a bit more of a challenge. Major sporting goods companies like Nike and Adidas, he explained, often require stores to order at least $20,000 a year to open an account. His shop, in its best years, sells only about $60,000 worth of merchandise.
While he waited to land accounts, he started driving down to Tijuana to buy children’s soccer uniforms. A hundred would sell out in about a month.
Eventually he landed a contract with Puma and Lotto. Hewing to his original purpose, though, Guzmán decided to offer the merchandise at near cost. A pair of Puma King cleats goes for $100 at his shop. At the Puma store downtown, the same model retails for $125.
“It was never to make money or get rich,” he said of his business. Of the roughly $50,000 in sales the shop clears every year, Guzmán only takes home between $5,000 and $10,000. His family lives mostly off the salary he makes from the city as director of youth programs for the Department of Recreation and Parks.
But running the store has had other benefits. When the weather is nice, his family often makes carne asada and sets up a TV to watch professional matches in their driveway. Neighbors and passersby are welcome to stop and have a taco, said Guzmán.
The city youth teams are better off for the store, too, according to Luis Azucena, one of Guzmán’s co-workers at the Department of Recreation and Parks. He said he’s known Guzmán to donate equipment to players and teams in need. The store’s list of IOUs is a few pages long.
“Sometimes it’s more than a business. It’s about doing something for the community,” said Azucena. “He does so much for the kids in the Mission.”
This story first ran on December 23rd 2008, but it was a time when few people were reading Mission Lo@l so we decided to rerun it since José Guzmán’s teams are playing soccer every day at Garfield Park. See our recent video below.