Fitness and sporting goods stores/personnel hit by Katrina and aftermath

A number of fitness and sports retail outlets and staff have been affected by Hurricane Katrina, although a few in surrounding areas luckily missed a major blow and are now only dealing with the aftermath. Updates here on Fitness Expo, Bell's Sporting Goods, Alpha Fitness, Academy Sports, Resist-a-Ball, and Body Masters, as well as aid offerings and information from Nike and the SGMA.

A number of fitness and sports retail outlets and staff have been affected by Hurricane Katrina, although a few in surrounding areas luckily missed a major blow and are now only dealing with the aftermath.

>> Fitness Expo, based in Metairie, La., only about a mile from the levee and the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, had its headquarters and main store closed and evacuated. According to a manager in another store, owner Rodney Rice Jr. and his family evacuated to Houston, Texas, where they had been in a hotel waiting out the storm. Todd Meyer in the Baton Rouge store (one of five in the Fitness Expo group in the Louisiana and Mississippi area) said the Metairie story was “lucky” and only had a foot or two of water since it was on the “right” side of the levee break. SNEWS® was unable to reach Rice.

When it comes to business, Meyer said he has “written off September,” but hopes things will recover for outlying areas by October.

“We are fine,” he said. “We just need people to get excited about fitness again.”

>>As we reported in our story about fitness and sporting goods operations seeking aid for the area (click here), Alpha Fitness Equipment was in one of the worst hit areas, with headquarters in Chalmette and on the “wrong” side of Lake Pontchartrain and the levee break. Owner Larry Thonn, who likely lost everything in the store since most of the area was leveled (we haven’t been able to reach him), has relocated to Baton Rouge and continues to operate the e-tail side of his business with the help of friends outside the area answering a phone. Stated the website: “Although our New Orleans area offices were disabled, we are operating at regular speed in a temporary location. All orders are being shipped direct from factory warehouses. Phone services should be restored shortly.” Bill Barontini, now in charge of phones, said he’s still getting calls from other states about orders and order status.

“I’m just doing what I can to help him,” Barontini said.

>> In the sporting goods realm, Academy Sports on its website ( lists five stores that are shut and perhaps flattened in both Louisiana and Mississippi. In addition, it has on its website posted toll-free numbers to its headquarters in Katy, Texas, for displaced employees to call and posted an open bulletin board seeking where employees – many still without phone or cell service but with Internet access – can communicate with the company and each other and where the company can post announcements.

On the bulletin board, Paul from the Gulfport, Miss., story wrote: “…lost everything in the house (on Biloxi Back Bay and my truck was under 4 feet of water. Will be leaving Biloxi after I get with Allstate Insurance. Will be in Kansas City until I leave for Iraq…. Thanks everyone.”

To the west and escaping most damage other than winds and, now, evacuees, is the Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas:

>> Body Masters, based just outside of Lafayette in Rayne, had posted on its website that it was having communications interruptions. “Our manufacturing operations have not been affected by the storm and we are delivering on schedule…. We appreciate your understanding and patience during these times. Thank you for your interest in Body Masters. … To assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina, please visit the American Red Cross website.”

>> Ken Seibold, owner of Bell’s Sporting Goods, also in the Lafayette area, wrote SNEWS®: “What has happened is unbelievable. We were fortunate to be on the west side of the storm and just far enough away. We have had our share before, but nothing like this…. We are feeling the impact of the evacuation of the city. Imagine the problems any state would have if they had to evacuate and shut down there largest city, especially one like New Orleans. One example, as of Friday Sept. 2, Lafayette public schools have already enrolled over 1,500 children from New Orleans. This is just the tip of the iceburg. Thanks for your concern. I’m lucky to be in Lafayette.”

>> Also out of the way was Resist-a-Ball owner/founder Mike Morris, who wrote in an email to SNEWS®: “Things are a bit crazy around the state. We are fine; we are west of the storm’s path. People are everywhere, we are taking clothes, food, etc. to people in our area. It will be sometime before things settle down.”

In other news:
>> Nike announced it is donating $500,000 in immediate aid to the American Red Cross. The Oregon-based company said it has four factory outlet stores in the affected area, including stores in Gulfport, Miss., Foley, Ala., Destin, Fla., and Commerce, Ga. “The store in Gulfport remains structurally intact but closed due to water and roof damage,” Nike wrote in a statement. “All other stores are open and operational. At present time, Nike is not aware of any casualties to Nike employees, but is in the process of contacting employees in the Gulfport area, which is experiencing severe telecommunications outages due to the storm.”Â

>> Still trying to determine and implement how it can best help, the SGMA said it is is contacting and asks for contact from any members in the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama region to see what help they and their employees might need. In addition, the association told SNEW® it is creating a primer for member companies on how and where to help based on the information available from various emergency management websites. It is hoping to update regularly on

Lastly, wrote director of communications Andrea Cernich, “We will explore with our board of directors additional actions we could/can/will organize on behalf of the industry to provide aid to communities, residents, and relief efforts throughout the impacted areas.” Stay tuned for further information this week.

If you have any news you’d like to broadcast about the industry, its business, yourself or your employees, please email and look to our Hurricane Katrina center for more information as the situation unfolds.