Every town has one. It’s that special small business with unique character that keeps customers coming back because they know that the best service and some good old-fashioned social interaction will be there waiting for them.
Rapid Transit Sports is located on the corner of South Allen and East Calder Way in the heart of downtown State College. The store has been a local fixture within the running and overall sporting communities for more than three decades. Under the watchful eye of long-time owner Terry Losch, Rapid Transit has never wavered in accomplishing its goal of matching the customer with the perfect product for their athletic or leisurely needs.
Rapid Transit is one of the lone businesses these days to operate almost entirely in its brick and mortar form. The shop has a Facebook page, but that’s it. You won’t find a fancy website stocked full of products ready to be shipped to the your doorstep, though Losch may hand-deliver your order if the store didn’t have the perfect size in stock when you stopped by.
“One of the things we’ve started doing, especially with our older clientele, is if they’re waiting for a shoe, I’ll deliver it to their house,” Losch said. “You’ve got to try to do things in our community that are different.”
Losch also discussed the difficulties of operating a business without the high-tech interaction that the younger generation, especially Penn State students, craves. Rapid Transit isn’t on Snapchat Discover, that’s for sure, but Losch and his loyal team of career employees more than make up for the lack of technology with their expertise and desire to build relationships.
“I have a highly-compensated staff that’s all full-time professionals…retirement plan, 100 percent of their family’s health insurance is covered by us,” Losch said.
“Everybody knows us; they know our business philosophy is really old school. We’re not an Internet company — we try to remember our customers,” Losch said. “Now, how long can this old school business model exist in the world of Internet? I don’t know. Our business is no longer growing, it’s starting to shrink, and the extremely high rents that we pay – [the store’s location]isn’t prime anymore.”
While many students may not know what Rapid Transit is all about, local athletes who grew up purchasing their gear at the two-level, multi-sport store understand the impact Losch has on the local community. Each year, you can find the distinct Rapid Transit logo adorning the jerseys of youth sports teams.
“The State College Little League – they’ve come to us again this year because we need to sponsor three or four teams, in all divisions, because Dick’s [Sporting Goods] won’t sponsor one, Walmart doesn’t; Kohl’s, Target, nobody sponsors a team,” Losch said. “My little shop’s spending $1,500 to sponsor teams and those big boxes give nothing.”
Going above and beyond to make sure the kids growing up in State College have a jersey on opening day each season is hardly a new phenomenon for Losch, who knows exactly what it’s like to be in their shoes.
“As kids, we would hang out at the baseball field, which was at the corner of Allen and Park Ave. The football field — old Beaver Field – was toward the Nittany Lion Inn, so once they moved the stadium out, they expanded the baseball field and it sat right on that corner,” Losch said.
“The coach was Chuck Medlar (the namesake of Medlar Field) and we would hang out at the baseball field and go into the dugout. If you would retrieve nine foul balls from the neighborhood, because they would fly into College Heights across the street, he’d give us a free one…he was so nice to us kids and we loved it.”
Losch, an avid runner who logs countless miles on his personal odometer, carried that feeling with him when he took over Rapid Transit in the mid-1980s.
“We’ve always been a tech running shop first. We have about 10,000 pairs of shoes in inventory and every model’s coming in three widths – nobody does that anymore,” Losch said. “They [big-box stores] will bring the new style of shoe in and then when they sell out a size, they don’t replace it. Now, what sense does that make? Every Sunday night and Monday, we’re replacing every shoe that we sold the previous week.”
On top of Rapid Transit’s commitment to spending as long as it takes to find each customer a glove-like fit from its vast array of options, Losch makes sure to contribute to Penn State’s philanthropic efforts each year on “For The Kids Day.”
“We’re a store that’s really a part of the community; we give so much back – big THON sponsor. We raised over $4,000 in one day,” Losch said.
After 32 years at the helm, Losch and his staff have picked up a few fun traditions that State College residents have come to expect. The Rapid Transit entrance features beautiful glass displays that are perfect for advertising the store’s seasonal offerings.
“When the [football]season starts, we do the mini-helmet display with the different conferences. And then our Christmas tradition is, when the bowl games are announced, we do all 31 bowl-game matchups and every little boy in town comes down and looks at it,” Losch said. “Arts Fest, you have all the tie-dye Penn State shirts…track season you’re doing all the running shoes.”
Rapid Transit’s history is rich with nuances like that, when rolled up into one ornate package, can alter the way you look at the experience of being a customer.
“The marvelous thing about our community is the people. From the Penn State kids you meet that are just so awesome to the long-time town fixtures like myself,” Losch said. “I was in California one time and I was running on Santa Monica Blvd. I had my Penn State track shirt on and an older couple stopped me – they were Penn Staters, they met here at the Corner Room and got married, but hadn’t been back in years and wondered if it was still here.”
It certainly is, as Losch wakes up bright and early each morning for his usual piping-hot bowl of oatmeal just across the street from his store.
“The magic thing about Penn State is State College — the community – becomes your second hometown, no matter where you’re from,” Losch said. “What a great town to grow up in.”