Moe Sports Shop in Ann Arbor turns 100

Paula Gardner
Ann Arbor News

Ann Arbor — Before the nation’s collegiate apparel industry turned into a $4.6 billion profit machine, any nonathlete who wanted to wear a University of Michigan shirt probably had to steal one from the athletic department.

That changed in 1934 when George Moe started to add University of Michigan clothing to his lineup of sporting goods and uniforms at his stores in Ann Arbor.

That story, told for generations, represents the significance and influence of a retail milestone: The 100th anniversary this year of Moe Sports Shop.

It’s an anniversary event that won’t involve a public party. Instead, the store’s owners say it’s a chance to acknowledge milestones such as their belief that it’s the nation’s birthplace for collegiate apparel.

“That happened at Michigan,” co-owner Rishi Narayan said. “I think that story sets the tone for how important this little shop ended up being.”

At the same time, the co-owners said, they hope customers will value how little has changed at the place where generations of UM athletes, students and alumni have shopped for sporting goods.

“It’s a slice of history,” Narayan said. “Michigan athletics is intertwined with Ann Arbor and sports history in general.”

As proof, he points to UM Coach Jim Harbaugh’s press conference when he discussed his return to Ann Arbor. Among his memories from living here, he said, was shopping at Moe.

That, co-owner Ryan Gregg said, showed how customers form a relationship with the store. And the pair continue to find those local connections as they research details of the store’s history for its centennial.

“It’s one of the things in the campus community that’s the same: Location, storefront, address,” he said. “I don’t think there are any other stores that really claim that.”

Gregg and Narayan said they bought the store in 2010 knowing that they’d feel a responsibility to maintain the sense of history at Moe’s.

The pair bought the store from Bud Van De Wege Jr., who pursued a different career as his father — the late Bud Sr. — decided to finally retire.

Since that time, Gregg and Narayan have operated the store across from the UM Diag in ways that might barely seem different to the store’s founder.

Clothing is still stocked in the custom cabinetry. There’s still one dressing room. The haberdashery-style three-way mirror still lets buyers check all angles. Some elements still show how sports equipment was displayed in the store, before items like tennis rackets and golf clubs left the product mix.

The sign out front also hasn’t changed in years; it still bears the Van De Wege name, added after Bud Sr. bought it from Harold Trick, who acquired it from Moe’s widow, Genevieve, after her husband died.