June 30, 2016

Mostly sunny

After 37 years, Action Wear’s owners to retire

ELYRIA — The first morning Jim and Pat Harssema wake up after their retirement, the longtime Elyria couple said they are not sure what they will do.

“Maybe we’ll take a long walk. It will be July by then and the (Lorain County) Metro Parks are beautiful in the summer,” Jim Harssema said. “And then I think we will just take a deep breath.”

For 37 years, the Harssemas have owned and operated Action Wear, a retail business specializing in dance, swim and gymnastics wear. But after nearly four decades of outfitting pint-sized entertainers from Sandusky to Cleveland, the couple will close their Broad Street store and move on to the next phase of their lives — retirement.

“For so long, we have worked six days, often seven days a week,” Jim Harssema said. “We have missed out on a lot. We have some catching up to do.”

It’s not easy to keep a business going year after year, but Pat Harssema, who helped customers with a smile Thursday as she walked them through an inventory of dance shoes, credits their success to finding a business model that works and sticking through the hard times.

The store was an offshoot of Jim Harssema’s business as a ballroom dance instructor and morphed into more of a retail business.

“We would sell shoes and things for my students and eventually we were carrying so much we had to decide to take the business in one direction or another,” he said.

“Now, anyone who has danced knows Action Wear,” said his wife. “This has been a good business for us and we have met a lot of good people.”

It is not known at this time whether Action Wear will stay. The couple has been in conversation with some people who are interested in taking over the business, but nothing is concrete.

“We really hope that will come to pass and the business will last longer than us,” Jim Harssema said.

“This place is still needed in the community,” Pat Harssema said. “I believe there are people who still want to come into a store, see merchandise, try it on and get help from someone in a store.”

Inside the store, a very sizable inventory of brightly colored dance leotards, sparkly tops and bedazzled accessories can be found hanging from the racks. The merchandise is priced to sell and Pat Harssema believes customers will be in for the items.

“Even in hard times people try hard to keep their kids in things like dance and gymnastics,” she said. “It may not be two or three classes. It may just be one, but they will work hard to do things for their kids.”

That is the mindset that got the couple through the hard times.

Every business owner knows lean times and bad days, but success is found by those who look beyond those dark days.

“Everyone has bad days and as long as it’s not bad weeks or months, you’re OK,” Jim Harssema said.

“We’ve had our share of pretty lean days, but things always change. That’s the great thing about the arts. They are consistently there,” Pat Harssema said.

The couple has two adult sons and two grandsons and hopes to spend more time with them after retirement. Traveling is also high on the list of priorities. The plan is to stay around until at least the end of June. Then, their options open up exponentially, they said.

“There are so many things you want to do and you’re not sure where to start,” Jim Harssema said.

Action Wear’s hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The store is closed Sunday and Monday.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.

About Lisa Roberson

Lisa Roberson has been with the Chronicle since 2006, and covers Elyria city government and public education. She can be reached at 329-7121 or LRoberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter.