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Another one bites the dust

Another one bites the dust

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2020 has been awful. When the pandemic hit back in February, there were so many, what seemed to be, sudden changes and many losses. With stay-at-home orders issued by state and local government, schools, gyms, restaurants, wineries, daycare, and of course the local businesses plummeted.

According to the North Bay Business Journal, nearly half of California wine country businesses closed temporarily or permanently after the shelter in place orders were decreed, and now it seems this includes my favorite store, Sportabout, owned by Tom Steinman since 1983.

With the coming of yet another store closing, I have been reflecting on the decades of my life here in Napa. And one thread of continuity has remained through it all, the store Sportabout and its owner/master racket stringer, Tom Steinman. His store is full of footwear for any occasion and tennis gear from tennis rackets to socks, to his most expert and masterful work at stringing.

My husband and I moved here in 1988. In 1990, after completing my master’s degree, I started a new career as a psychiatric social worker at Napa State Hospital. I was new in town and needed to find a good shoe store. I was looking for shoes mostly for work and to replace my old Birkenstocks.

That’s when I discovered Sportabout and Tom. At the time he was located on Imola near Jefferson Street. Tennis was the farthest from my mind. But once I walked through the door not only were there shoes but there was all of this tennis gear.

I was transported and the memories poured in front and center. Sure, I played when I was in high school, a little in college, but then left the game to explore other activities, it was an old interest of the past.

I continued to visit Tom and buy shoes but slowly found myself drawn back into the tennis world.

Tom encouraged me to check out the local tennis association. Obviously, my heart still had a place for tennis because after all those years I still had my beautifully preserved and still playable Davis TAD wooden racket. In fact, in the beginning of my comeback, I asked Tom to restring this beauty and I played with it.

But then I needed an upgrade, so I started buying rackets, socks, shoes, not just casual work type shoes anymore and of course, he strung my rackets. He was always sharing his wisdom, expert knowledge of the different types of strings, and would set the tension of the strings up so that they would respond to my style of play and level at the time. He was spot on.

Soon, my kids were grown and I was heading into retiring from my career as a licensed clinical social worker. I was so keen to keep learning about the tools and skills of the tennis player, that I asked Tom for a job asking if might teach/train me in the skill of stringing. He did. I was thrilled to be learning from the best. People came from all over the county and beyond to get their rackets strung. It was truly a unique opportunity.

But in a matter of months, the COVID-19 hit and hit hard. Shelter in place orders were issued and everything closed for three months straight.

Sportabout wasn’t the only business to feel the brutal consequences. By the time the store could reopen, I believe Tom had seriously begun to take the steps to retiring, closing his tennis and footwear store.

On the surface, the store is like so many sporting goods and footwear stores. There is one in every town. But for me, and most probably for many others like me, this store was different. Sportabout became a part of my life -- filling a need throughout my life as a social worker, mother, retiree, and avid tennis player.

Now with Thanksgiving around the corner, I want to thank you, Tom, for all you've done for Napa, the sporting community, and for me. You've always been there for us.

I and so many others are going to miss you but I wish you all the very best going forward.

Thank you, Tom.

Gila Freeberg


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