The growing popularity of soccer has meant strong sales at local soccer bars and stores, including Milwaukee’s first soccer store, Stefan’s.
When it opened on the near south side in 1965, Stefan’s wasn’t even technically a soccer shop, according to employee Dustin Aubert.
“It was originally just a menswear store started by Stefan Bartnik. He was a Polish immigrant who lived in the area. It was mostly men’s clothing, but he found that all of his soccer playing friends didn’t have any place to get equipment,” Aubert says.
So Bartnik began importing soccer balls and shoes and other gear. His decision paid off.
“Eventually they got rid of the men’s apparel and just turned it into all soccer, once that started to grow and was working for them,” Aubert says.
In those days, Aubert says most of Stefan’s customers were European immigrants who lived nearby. Over the next couple decades, the demographics changed, but demand did not.
“We’ve been really fortunate being on the south side of Milwaukee, it’s a heavily Latino area. One soccer-loving community has moved out into different areas, and another one has moved in,” Aubert says.
Aubert says from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, the single store on Lincoln Ave. was enough to meet the needs of the local soccer-playing crowd. But then more people started getting into the sport. High schools and colleges began fielding teams, and youth leagues sprouted.
“A lot of the people that grew up playing soccer are now parents, so you have multiple generations in families that appreciate the sport,” Aubert says.
Soccer fan Michael McNeely of Bay View took a liking to soccer when his sons started playing. He says he’s noticed others becoming interested in the sport.
“I remember the World Cup four years ago, and there didn’t seem to be nearly as much excitement,” McNeely says.
McNeely stopped at the Lincoln Ave. Stefan’s Tuesday, to look at the Team USA merchandise. He considered buying a red, white and blue jersey, but not many were left.
While the USA jerseys have been the top seller lately, salesperson Noe Brito says another team’s jersey is close behind.
“In this store, since we’re close to the south side of Milwaukee, there’s obviously a lot of Hispanics down here, so the Mexico merchandise in this store is just selling like crazy. We sold out, actually, of their home jerseys the day before the World Cup even started,” Brito says.
Dustin Aubert says it's been an exciting time for the company, not only because sales are strong, but also because the staff is captivated by the public’s enthusiasm for the World Cup. Yet, he says it’s hard to predict the long-term response.
“Even though soccer goes on after the World Cup’s over, a lot of those people who got excited for the World Cup will kind of move on and maybe not pay as close of attention. But we just hope with how excited everybody is about the World Cup that if we can just get a small percentage of those people to carry on beyond this and be in love with the sport as much as they are right now, that we’re in good shape for it to continue to grow,” Aubert says.
Stefan's now has four locations in metro Milwaukee.