Gart family sells last stake in retail business to Vail Resorts |

Gart family sells last stake in retail business to Vail Resorts

Denver’s first family of sporting goods, the Garts, is exiting the retail business after an 82-year run.Vail Resorts Inc. said Thursday that it is buying out the Garts’ share of Specialty Sports Venture, owner of Colorado Ski & Golf, Bicycle Village and dozens of equipment and rental shops in mountain resorts.The deal marks the end of the Garts’ retail empire that started in 1928 when Nathan Gart, the son of a Russian immigrant, opened a tiny downtown Denver sporting-goods store with $33 in inventory.Vail Resorts will pay $31 million to the Garts for the 30 percent share of Specialty Sports that it doesn’t already own. The transaction is scheduled to become final today.The acquisition is part of Vail Resorts’ corporate strategy of acquiring retail, real-estate, hotel and transportation holdings to complement its ski- area business.Ken Gart, president of the 145-store firm, described the sale as “a bittersweet moment for . . . our family.””It’s sad because I have loved this business and I’ve loved the people I work with,” he said. “(But) I am confident that Vail Resorts and its leadership will bring a wealth of expertise and resources to continue to grow the retail and rental business.”The Gart family and Vail Resorts merged their retail holdings in 1998 in a deal that gave 51 percent ownership to Vail and management control to the Garts.Over the past five years, the Garts had sold portions of their equity to Vail. The original transaction had stipulated that Vail Resorts eventually would purchase all the equity.Brothers Ken and Tom Gart will continue to hold Gart Properties, owner of the Denver Pavilions retail center and several other commercial properties, and Gart Capital Partners, a private-equity investment firm.The family’s original venture, Gart Bros. Sporting Goods, was the largest sports retailer in Denver. The firm coined the name Sniagrab – “bargains” spelled backward – for its huge Labor Day weekend sale at the Sports Castle building at 10th Avenue and Broadway.The family sold its retail operations in 1986 to Thrifty Corp. It built a new chain of sporting-goods stores in the early 1990s and merged it with Vail Resorts in 1998.Specialty Sports Venture had sales last year of $147.4 million.The firm’s management will be taken over by Kat Jobanputra, who has served under the Garts as executive vice president and chief operating officer of Specialty Sports.”From a customer perspective, I think the jury is out on how the firm will do under complete Vail Resorts control,” said Patrick O’Winter, chief executive of Lakewood-based Christy Sports.”Kenny (Gart) has been a very formidable competitor, and he’s a very good retailer,” O’Winter said. “But historically, ski-resort owners have not been very good retailers.”Specialty Sports’ headquarters and 52 corporate employees will move this fall from a Cherry Creek North office building to Vail Resorts’ offices at the Interlocken business park in Broomfield.”Ken and Tom Gart have been terrific partners with our company for over 12 years and have been largely responsible for the incredible growth and performance of Specialty Sports Venture over that time period,” said Rob Katz, chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts.Steve Raabe: 303-954-1948 or sraabe@denverpost.comThe Gart Cos.Vail Resorts will assume complete control of Specialty Sports Venture, formerly a joint venture of Vail and Gart Cos. The Gart family operations include:Specialty Sports Venture, owner of 145 sporting-goods stores, including Colorado Ski & Golf (above), Bicycle Village and equipment and rental shops in mountain resorts. Vail will have sole ownership after the deal.Gart Properties, owner of the Denver Pavilions retail center, the Grand Lodge at Crested Butte, the Seasons at Avon and several other retail, office and warehouse properties.Gart Capital Partners, a private-equity investment firm whose holdings include golf- instruction firm GolfTec (above) and retailer Colorado Bag’n Baggage.

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