Athletes, especially on the east side, may be saddened to learn that a treasured local establishment will be closing its doors at the end of the month. After almost 67 years, Harper Sport Shop will be locking its doors for the last time on July 31. The local athletic community will suffer a huge loss with the family-owned and -operated business closing, another victim of the economic climate.
In 1947, Leslie “Les” Seppala and his wife, Katherine (more affectionately known as “Kay”), opened a sporting goods store on Harper Avenue on Detroit’s east side with a bonus that Les received for being a prisoner of war for four months in World War II. The former P51 fighter pilot-turned-special education teacher taught in the Detroit Public School system during the day, while Kay minded the shop, and relieved her after school to take care of the children at home.
Les and Kay’s son Bill joined his family at the store in 1971. His vision to expand the business included revitalizing inventory. This meant taking on brand names that were emerging as the preferred brands of the era’s athletes. Bill, a veteran himself, eventually took over running the store as Les got older. In another effort to better suit his customers, Bill moved the shop to a larger facility in St. Clair Shores in 1994.
Even as Les aged, he was still a presence in the store. He was always there, walking around talking to customers. Even though they were the most knowledgeable, having the friendliest staff was the foundation of Harper Sport. Leo Pampalona, a longtime employee, treated each tiny competitor as one of his own children, greeting all the customers who came to see him with his signature, “Heya, babe.” After sponsoring so many players and teams, Les was inducted into the Michigan Amateur Hall of Fame in 1978.
After both Les and Bill died, Bill’s two sons, Mike and Mark took the reins and continued with help from their mother, Mary Beth. The third generation of Harper Sport kept the store’s reputation intact, providing a helpful and friendly environment. A statement posted on the Harper Sport’s Facebook page perfectly encapsulates the attitude of the business, “Seeing young athletes grow from their first pair of skates or their first baseball mitt all the way to being stars on and off the field is something that all of us here at HSS will miss dearly.”
Harper Sport Shop will be closing out its inventory over the next few weeks. Not only is this an opportunity to get great equipment at a fraction of the cost, but it’s also an opportunity to visit the staff and say goodbye to a place that has helped shape so many lives.