In 1976, Earl Harrison walked away from a cozy job with Bell Laboratories after 18 years and with his wife, Phoebe opened up a small sporting goods store in downtown Graham, NC. The Harrisons, who had no previous business experience, called it Graham Sporting Goods. Located one block from the county courthouse, the store’s main selling points were a soda fountain and a collection of athletic socks. It was an inauspicious start. But despite the risk, the two felt they had no choice. Bell Laboratories had told Harrison he would have to transfer to New Jersey if he wanted to keep his job. “I couldn’t go,” Harrison said. “I had one son about to go to college and two others in high school. So we couldn’t go. I elected to leave the company.”
Today, the family owns four sporting goods stores in the area. There is one in Greensboro, two in Burlington and the original in Graham. Success has been a mixture of happenstance and prudent moves.Harrison said that after his decision to leave Bell Laboratories, the family knew that it wanted to go into some type of business in the area but didn’t know precisely what that would be. It was his wife, he said, who first noticed that a downtown drugstore was going out of business. “We were looking for something,” she said. “Earl would come up with something, and I would say no. I’d come up with something like ladies’ apparel, and he would say no… I just thought (the drugstore site) was a good place for business.”
The evening that she spotted the upcoming vacancy, the family discussed the site’s potential. It was son Dean, who had just graduated from high school, who suggested opening up a sporting goods store. A week after the drugstore closed, the Harrisons opened Graham Sporting Goods. While Harrison finished out his remaining year with Bell Laboratories, his wife ran the store. The soda fountain, left over from the drugstore days, produced most of the business. Sporting goods were in short supply. Most sporting vendors, aware that sporting goods stores have a high failure rate, were reluctant to supply the store with merchandise credit. “You can imagine what they thought when you said, “Send it to Graham Sporting Goods and Soda Fountain,” she said. Gradually, with a $20,000 loan, The Harrisons started to beef up the store’s inventory. Besides concentrating on retail sales, the couple began to see the business provided by recreational leagues that sponsor sports such as softball.
In 1979, they opened a second store in Cum Park Plaza Shopping Center in east Burlington. Although the shopping center’s management wanted a different store name, the Harrisons stuck with the original. “If it was good enough to start with, it was good enough to on go with.” Harrison said.
Two years later, Earl and Phoebe went to visit Dean at college. They told him that rather than give him a car as a graduation present, they were prepared to help him start another sporting goods store. The younger Harrison, who along with sisters Connie and Kim helped the family with the stores after school, accepted. A month after graduation, Dean with his new wife Susan opened Graham Sporting Goods in Greensboro. The fourth store – and second in Burlington- followed a year later.
Over thirty-six years later not much has changed. Graham Sporting Goods is still owned and operated by the Harrison family. There are now two retail locations one in Greensboro and the other in Burlington. Dean and his wife Susan still own and operate the Greensboro location with help from their three sons Scott, Alex and Bradley. Earl and Phoebe''s youngest daughter Kim and her husband Roger own and operate the Burlington location.
Dean and Susan (with help from their middle son Alex) took the Graham Sporting Goods name onto the web in 2012. The core values passed down from Earl and Phoebe still hold true today. The third generation Harrisons have started graduating from college and have begun to help the family business grow in these constantly changing and sometimes challenging times. The focus of the family and the store is still the same whether you visit us in our store or on our website. We strive to help athletes and fans take the field: dressed, equipped and ready to play while giving our customers the best customer service, price and quality we can.