Chapel Hill: Sports

The final frontier: that space beneath the tree

Sarah Albrecht of Fleet Feet Sports in Carrboro shows a Nike Flash vest to a customer.
Sarah Albrecht of Fleet Feet Sports in Carrboro shows a Nike Flash vest to a customer.

Somewhere out past Pluto and even beyond the influence of Tobacco Road basketball lies the Oort Cloud. While conventional wisdom contends that this region at very edge of our Solar System is made up of ice, dust, and the stuff of would-be comets, some scientists now believe that it is completely comprised of unwanted Christmas gifts, useless techno-fitness gadgets, and Nordic Track trainers.

Here are some ideas for the recreational athlete on your list, lest your gifts wind up floating off into the aether.

The must-have items on more wish lists this holiday season are Yeti products – insulated coolers, thermoses, koozies, and the like.

“Brand-wise, we’re selling a lot of products by Yeti,” said Tom Mrotek, a sales associate at the Great Outdoor Provision Company in Eastgate Shopping Center off East Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.

“We’re selling everything from their drink-ware right up to their larger coolers,” Mrotek added. “Coolers begin at $250 for their Roadie 20 (carrying 20 pounds of ice). That’s the hard cooler starting point, and their soft coolers start at $299. The ‘Hopper,” is that soft-sided cooler, and it comes in a few sizes.”

Jordan Ayers, sales manager at Omega Sports in the New Hope Shopping Center in Durham, agreed: “That’s one of our most popular items this Christmas, and we keep the Yeti products right behind our register.”

Mrotek explained that people first started using them for off-shore fishing.

“They keep ice for days, you can stand on them as a casting platform, and they’re bear-proof,” he said. “Bears can smell food inside, but they can’t get into them.”

Mrotek said Great Outdoor Provision Company offered Yeti gift ideas and stocking stuffers, including a highball glass insulation right up to thermoses, ramblers, and high-end koozies.

“They run from $25 up to $40,” he said, “and we also have Yeti locks, bottle openers, and other items starting from $5.00.”

In stock for out of doors

Winter may discourage year-round recreational practices in the Great White North, but here in the ‘Ol’ North State,’ folks head outdoors 365 days a year.

Sales Manager Jose Enamorado and sales associate Chad Meyer of Play It Again Sports in the Indigo Corners Shopping Center off New Hope Commons Drive in Durham said sport-specific items were big sellers at Christmas, as parents stocked the households with spring and summer sports equipment.

Disk golf is huge for us,” Meyer said.

Enamorado agreed: “Even in the winter, they’re still playing that locally.”

Jordan Ayers, sales manager at Omega Sports in New Hope Commons, said it was never too early to see sales of swimming, baseball and tennis equipment.

But Mrotek said folks preparing for the wooliest weather stock up on down-filled and high-tech apparel at his store.

“We’re selling down sweaters by Patagonia,” he said, “and, by ‘down,’ we mean more of a reference to the style (than material). We’re also selling Patagonia women’s jackets that are thigh and knee-length. That, and we’re also selling a mountain of plaid clothing, and wool socks, like products by Farm to Feet, a North Carolina-based company that uses only domestic wool. A lot of their styles are named for towns in North Carolina.”

Mrotek said he was also seeing a lot of interest in Sorel boots for men and women.

“We see them selling both as gifts and just as general seasonal items,” he said. “Some other stores sell low (cut) styles but not a real boot.”

Sarah Albrecht, employee training coordinator at the Fleet Feet Carrboro and Durham locations, said one line of big sellers from 2014 was still popular: Nike Flash reflective vests, tights, and shoes.

“We have a few Nike Flash vests left for $280,” Albrecht said, noting they offer 360-degree reflectivity. Also, shoes like Nike’s Pegasus Flash and women’s CRV tights are “selling like hotcakes.”

The ‘in’ crowd

While the South’s relatively warm temperatures may invite more outdoor winter recreation than do many latitudes, some still prefer their exercise at room temperature, and Play it Again Sports is prepared to equip them.

“Fitness equipment is the biggest selling stuff at Christmas,” Meyer said.

“We sell a lot of elliptical trainers,” Enamorado said. “They’re a lot easier to get started on; they’re low impact and good exercise. Plus, they can be cheaper than a treadmill.”

And almost every adults can remember that Christmas when Mom or Dad tried to wrap a new bicycle and place it innocently under the tree. For those whose turn it is to return the favor, the Bicycle Chain stands ready.

“We definitely sell a lot of children’s bikes, and also helmets,” said Desiree French, manager at the Bicycle Chain store near the entrance to Durham’s New Hope Commons Shopping Center.

“Then for stocking stuffers, we see people coming in for socks and gloves,” French added. “Rechargeable lights are also really popular, and they can output like 300 lumens.”

French said, for kids, the right choice was usually less about function and more about


“For kids, it’s mostly about a color thing,” she said, laughing. “I can say, ‘street style,’ or ‘mountain bike style,’ but for most kids it comes down to color.”

Stuffing the stockings

With things getting awfully crowded around the tree, here are a few other items for the stockings.

“We’ve got a number of lights that are popular from a company called Nebo,” Mrotek said. “We also still do well with Swiss Army Knives too. I think the little keychain-sized one runs $16, and the least expensive full-sized one runs for $25.”

Ayers said Omega was offering the increasingly-popular Sweat X Extreme Odor Eliminator spray for around $12.00, which was particularly popular with parents of young athletes.

“Christmas tree ornaments specifically for runners are huge,” Albrecht said, “and, it may not fit in a stocking, but we also have a great towel ($40) that can be converted to a seat towel. You can change in it, and they you can lay it over your car seat. Flip-belts are also a great option, and so are gift certificates good for training programs.”

At the bottom of the stocking, almost any runner will inevitably find Gu nutritional products in the latest flavors.

“The newest one that we all love is the sea salt and chocolate Roctane Gu that’s higher in amino acids and has a little more sodium and a little more caffeine,” Albrecht said. “It’s really good, but they also have a new flavor: maple bacon. That one’s not my favorite.”

Easy Addition

Not that anything hangs in the balance or anything, but shop wisely or risk adding more mass to the Oort Cloud and possibly throwing the entire Solar System into disarray.