Small Business Focus: The Owner of Sprint Sports Says ‘You Have To Be Awake 24/7 To Survive’

Salesman Fareed, helping customers find the right sneaker for 24 years.

By Susanne Beck

Dany Ghatan knew nothing about sneakers when he and his brother-in-law and business partner opened Sprint Sports, an athletic shoe and apparel store on Broadway between 93rd and 94th Streets, in 1986. He was an architect by training, whose first job upon arriving in New York City from Iran a year before was with an architecture and design firm. Still, the pair saw opportunity when they noticed that people all over the city were wearing sneakers, for any function. “I notice that the sneaker is a hot item in America,” Dany recalls. “In New York at least. All people, they wearing sneakers.”

The business partners toured the city looking for a good neighborhood and quickly settled on the Upper West Side. Dany fell in love with the area, still sounding smitten today. “I love the UWS,” he says. “Is a very unique mix of people, very cultural. It’s amazing this part of the city, and beautiful, all these parks. I don’t know – is beautiful. The buildings – is classic.”

Better yet, Dany found “good people, good customers, good employees, good neighborhood, good location, good landlord. Everything work very well – and everyone help me too.” His prospects seemed bright.

The Tehran native learned that New York was never without challenges though. “New York is very tough,” he says. “You have to be awake 24/7 to survive. You always have to be alert. You always have to be on top of everything.”

Among other hurdles, the day after he opened, Dany realized that a sports mega-store had opened nearby. “Across the street!” he recalls, with delight borne of survival. “Six times bigger – and they have everything! They have maybe a million-dollar investment there, and they were very strong.” He quickly learned that there were others nearby. “Those days? Not an exaggeration – more than 11 sneaker stores in a 5 block radius!” By comparison, Dany says he and his beloved crew of three had nothing – a tiny store, an inventory of sneakers, and, for him, limited English. But they made up for it with a downright obsession about customer service.

Always positive, salesman Juan Carlos.

“Always I listen to my customer to see what they want, always listen to my associates to see what they tell me, carry what they wanted, always. Just listen to them and do my job,” Dany explains. And it worked. Business was consistent and strong, enabling the store to expand, not just once but twice, into the spaces next door.

“The neighborhood was full, full of different people,” Dany remembers. “A hundred, maybe two hundred in a day. Families, young people, babysitters with strollers.”

Then came the development boom and with it, in 2018, scaffolding that brought Dany’s sprint to a crawl. “Agh!” he exclaims, years later, with a laugh. “That kill me almost more than the economy, more than almost anything!” Sales plummeted. “No exaggeration, 30%, maybe 40%,” he says. And then, just a little over a year later, in March 2020, came COVID, when the crawl came to a halt.

Dany, forever the optimist, prefers to focus on the bright spots of the pandemic. “Thank God my employees were there when we reopened,” he says referring to his long-time staff of three: Fareed (nearly 24 years at the store), Juan Carlos (17 years) and Varunika (8 years).

“It was hard time. It was a very hard time. But I feel, I see, that things are changing,” Dany says, more than a year later. He secured funding from both rounds of PPP grants. Vendors extended his credit terms thanks to his clean credit history. And the landlord was willing to negotiate a bit on the rent. “Still negotiating,” he adds.

Dany believes that things are starting to look up, for himself and the city. “People are coming back. The other day, I take subway and had to wait for four trains to go by because they were so busy.” But he is also realistic. “Do you know how many empty storefronts I see?” He hopes the upcoming mayoral race will result in someone who understands how those vacant commercial properties create a negative ripple effect.

“I wish we had someone on top of city of New York who understand how the economy works, how the city works. I want to bring the real estate tax down, and all prices down, so landlord can afford to bring the rent down and bring more businesses and more people.”

Dany knows that achieving this will take time and patience — an unexpected response from a former college track star. “I was fast, very fast — 100 meters in 11-something seconds,” he reveals — and the owner of a sneaker store based on speed.

West Side Rag has been profiling small businesses, which are disappearing from the neighborhood at an alarming rate. To read more in this series, click here.

COLUMNS | 20 comments | permalink
    1. MQue says:

      Finally someone who understands how things work in this city.

    2. Huh says:

      What sports megastore was across the street? There certainly isn’t one now

      • Kim says:

        I think it was Modells.

      • CoolKat says:

        Was the megastore called Wings? I remember that place…good times

        • RL says:

          Wings. That was a great store – well it was when I was in my 20s!. Takes me back. And I remember when Sprint sneaker store opened. Really is one of the survivors so they must be doing something right.

    3. R says:

      Let this guy get the mayoral seat.

    4. Crankypants says:

      Maybe he should consider a run for office. These are woeful times for leadership here in our great City.

    5. Sarah says:

      Wow. Two retail employees at 10+ years?

    6. david natoli says:

      You can’t help but read something like this and ask”why is it this hard” for small business in this town?

      It is exhausting to even read.

      Scaffolding is something that I very rarely hear the Politicos and wannabe Mayors talk about but it is a gigantic blight on the city. Almost every building on CPW in the 70’s is covered in scaffolding. How can this be?

      • josh says:

        There was talk at one point of a fine for scaffolding up without work being done. The issue is cost – it costs a lot to put it up and take it down, but doesn’t cost much in between. So buildings will keep it up for years with no work being done while they raise the funds to do the actual work. It’s cheaper to put it up and leave it for 3 years than to take it down and then put it back up when they are ready to do the work again.

        • D-Rex says:

          Keeping the scaffolding up until the repairs are complete is often required. Once certain types of defects are found, pedestrians need to be protected until the a remedy is in place, which is often delayed by the need for funding.
          Not an easy issue to solve, but the more attractive scaffolding types tend to keep the business more active, however it is much more expensive…

        • Karen says:

          In this case the scaffolding is because of construction of a new building. So first there was making the soon to be demolished building safe for demolition,then demolition, and now construction. The passageway of the construction is very narrow and navigating in front of Sprint Sports really challenging. But it is worth it for the service.

      • nemo paradise says:

        Building regulations demand that all buildings be inspected and repointed every five years.

        This guarantees that at any given time, roughly 20% of all multistory buildings in NYC will be cloaked in scaffolding for roughly 6 months to a year.

        It is idiotic. No other city does this.

        • D-Rex says:

          To correct the major errors in the previous entry:
          1. No, not “all buildings”
          “…all existing buildings or buildings hereafter erected which are greater than six stories in height..”
          Meaning including all seven story buildings and taller. This excludes the majority of buildings in the city (by total number, of course it includes many in Manhattan and for good reason).

          2. Yes, buildings 7 stories and taller (rather than “all”) are to be inspected every five years…
          No, they are not required to be “…repointed every five years.” Deficiencies meeting a level deemed to be potentially hazardous (i.e. potential for falling debris, etc.) are required to be repaired. No one is repointing the entire building every five years, unless they are fools.
          Basically, the previous entry is incorrect.

        • Boris says:

          This regulation was enacted many years ago when there were numerous instances of masonry pieces falling down. With all the buildings having been inspected/fixed multiple times in the past couple decades, it’s time to back off this requirement from 5 to maybe 7-8 years. Buildings are in much better shape now.

    7. mk says:

      Love the enthusiasm and passion. Crazy to hear how scaffolding has such a direct neg impact on sales … such a shame. Just another obstacle for these small business owners. It often feels like scaffolding is up for MONTHS before any work has even begun

    8. D-Rex says:

      This is a great store, Dany is such a gentleman.
      The owners and associates are considerate and knowledgeable.
      Sprint Sports is the place to go if you have feet…you don’t need to be a runner, just someone who wants comfortable shoes!
      Shop local, keep the neighborhood strong!

    9. adami says:

      thanks for this story WSR. A few weeks ago I took my daughter there to get some comfortable shoes for her new job and ended up walking out with new pair of hiking sneakers for myself as well. (On sale!) Sprint seems to be the epitome of everything we talk about when extolling a local business. Had no idea he had been there that long!

    10. Julian says:

      I love this guy. As a rabid sneakerhead in the 2000s, I could always count on him to let me know down to the hour when shipments of classic air jordans would come in, and I’d just drive over while the boxes were still stacked in the middle of the store and get myself a couple pair. Meanwhile other people were standing in silly lines wrapped around the block at foot locker on saturday mornings.