By Chelsea Harris
Unlike your typical retail store, it isn’t just the latest trends and bringing in customers that has caused University Sporting Goods to remain so well-known and loved by many in Oxford. It’s the story behind the store that has given it a special place in Oxford for so many years.
“It’s also many students’ first stop on their Orientation visits to the ‘Oxford side of Ole Miss’ that they don’t get to see on television,” said Courtney Shaw, current employee and art designer for University Sporting Goods. “It connects the town to the University when you first walk into the store. You are greeted by the longtime owner, Pat Patterson, with the ultimate question, “Are you looking at Ole Miss?”
For if you look hard enough into the eyes of this man, you will see that he bleeds for this town as much as his store does. From the story of its decorated walls to the new and old t-shirt designs on the hangers, it has a charm that can never be replaced.
The story began in 1966 when the first University Sporting Goods store was opened by George Watson and the late George Maynard, his brother-in-law. At the time, there were two locations: one in Tupelo and one on the square in Oxford, where Boure is now.
Jeff Busby, co-owner of University Sporting Goods, reminisced on Watson and his wife’s frequent visits to the Oxford location during his time owning the store.
“They would come to Oxford on Monday and stay at the Holiday Inn, where the Graduate is now. Then, they would leave on Tuesday night, and Maynard would stay Thursday and Friday. They did this all through his years owning the store.”
In December 1984, Pat Patterson bought University Sporting Goods, and the store was moved to its current location on the square, across from the famous red telephone
booth, in 1988. Since then, a lot has changed about the store, but Patterson and Busby still make sure that the store manages to hold on to its roots.
In the ’80s, the store sold exclusively sporting gear like basketballs, footballs and gloves, and less than 10% of the store had Ole Miss apparel. University Sporting Goods didn’t start selling more Ole Miss gear until the late ’90s.
“Back then, the big games were in Jackson. The stadium (in Oxford) didn’t even have lights,” Busby said.
Now, Oxford is packed on the weekends. With the growing facilities at Ole Miss, baseball and basketball continue to bring in big crowds. However, Busby described SEC football weekends as “the bread and butter for USG.”
“That’s when we really gear up,” he said. “More staff have to be in the store, and more inventory has to be on the shelves.”
Busby began working at University Sporting Goods as a senior in high school and has been a partner in business with Patterson since the 1990s. To this day, both Busby and Patterson continue to hire students to work in the store. With about 45 employees, around 35 of those are students.
“We’re locally owned and operated, so we try to have a mix of local kids from Oxford and Lafayette County High Schools as well as a lot of Ole Miss students. We believe in trying to make our employees part of the community,” Busby said.
Much of what University Sporting Goods thrives off of is based on community support. He recalls when the store first began offering printing services and how much screen printing has changed over the years. Often, little league teams would come to the store to buy their equipment and get their jerseys made. The uniforms would have to be sent off to get team names put on the back and returned to put the numbers on them afterwards. After going to printing school, Patterson and Busby were able to do it all “in-house.” That and monogramming has given the store lots of flexibility.
Among other changes that University Sporting Goods has undergone is the use of online shopping.
“Online shopping was big in the Eli Manning years when everything was booming. We went to one of the first Cotton Bowls around that time, and there were days where we were sending out 100 to 150 packages per day,” said Busby.
At the time, not many local stores in Oxford offered online orders. Nowadays, there is more competition for online retail, but it has remained a big part of the business and continues to grow.
University Sporting Goods continues to be an asset to the LOU and Ole Miss community; whether it’s sponsoring a walk on campus to a benefit at one of the local high schools to sponsoring rings for the athletes, USG is always willing to give back. This is what helps keep its charm and why it has become a staple of the town.
“If I could say anything, we all help one another and work together to be successful,” Busby said.