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 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.