Mike Melbourne has played an active role in the North Okanagan’s sports community since he started at Sun Valley Sports in 1977.

Mike Melbourne has played an active role in the North Okanagan’s sports community since he started at Sun Valley Sports in 1977.

Melbourne an active force in sports

Source for Sports owner Mike Melbourne has seen loads of change since he started working for the store as a part-time student

A prized Louisville Slugger hockey stick sold for $6.99, skate sharpening was $1.50 and ash trays were placed at the end of shotgun barrels in an unlocked case.

Those were gentler, more simple times at Sun Valley Sports in downtown Vernon.

Mike Melbourne has seen loads of change since he started working for the store as a part-time student earning $2.50 an hour, in 1977. Five different locations and five decades later, Melbourne is an owner and manager of the Source For Sports outlet.

“I walked into the store wearing a pinstriped suit because I was working for Jack Graves at the funeral home,” recalled Melbourne, 52.

“Peter Rooke, the manager, hired me, and the next day I was sweeping the sidewalks. I remember we used a Hoover vaccuum to sharpen skates and I remember selling my first pair of skates. They were CCM Tacks worth $139.98 and that skate, today, sells for $600.”

The downtown stores served as regular Hot Stove Leagues for hockey talk and Melbourne smiles as he recalls the likes of local legends Ernie Kowal, Odie Lowe and Walt Trentini spending more than a few minutes each visit.

As an owner, Melbourne has hired scores of Junior A players, including Kyle Bigos, Mike Ford, Travis Brisebois and Brent Dodginghorse.

“Bigos wrote on his picture, ‘Best job I ever had.’  It was the first and only job he ever had. He told me if he ever reached the NHL, he’d send me a ticket.”

Melbourne walked up from the old Fulton school in Polson Park to the first Sun Valley site across from Eaton’s on main street, owned by Bruce Barnard. Les Viel’s Gun Shop was located inside the shop so Melbourne often measured pheasant tails and fish brought in by outdoorsmen.

A few moves later, Sun Valley was situated at the corner of 30th Avenue and 34th Street until it was destroyed by fire in April, 1995.

“Seven weeks after the fire, the employees bought the store (from Lynn Spraggs) and we had six equal partners.”

After seven years near the Upper Room Mission, they bought a building in the north end near Wendy’s Restaurant, and were down to three partners. Melbourne and Marg Griffin bought out longtime staffer Al Tomiak in 2007.

“I make a decent living,” said Melbourne, who is heavily involved in the community through Silver Star Rotary, Special Olympics, freestyle ski club, KidSport and coaching Rep soccer. “The building is Marg and I’s retirement. I want to work at least 10 more years and then I’d like to work part-time five or six months a year.”

His stick inventory today is worth more than the entire store’s inventory was 10 years ago with the $300 Bauer APX, the composite twig kids seek the most. Stiff competition, including Internet sites, make it harder to make a dollar.

Sun Valley tries to make a difference with knowledgable staff such as veterans Dana Hoover and Wendy Giger, who are ski and snowboard experts.

“It’s not so much about competing,” said Melbourne.

“It’s trying to do things better. If it’s head to head with product, we should be able to offer the customer better service.”

Sun Valley designed and crested the new minor hockey Rep jerseys, and it’s going the extra mile for local groups through sponsorships and donations which Melbourne hopes will reap business whereby “they think of us and at least give us a chance.”

Vernon’s Tom Arkell, now a lawyer in Chicago, played minor hockey here before joining the Nanaimo Clippers and earning a scholarship with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

He has fond memories of Sun Valley.

“I will always cherish going to Sun Valley with my dad (Ken, a retired judge, now 82) when it was on main street,” said Arkell.

“I remember him joking with Mike when I would try on skates.  I made a point of taking my son, Dawson, to buy his first pair of skates for Rep hockey from Mike.

“I also bought my first pair of skates after college from Mike. He was considerate and showed me some lower-end models to try and save me some money but I bought the most expensive skates in the store simply because they felt the best. Every pair of skates I wore in Vernon minor hockey were purchased from Mike. He is extremely knowledgeable, has a great personality and cares about his customers.”

Rosemary Manton spent many hours outfitting her sons, Rob and Leigh, back in the day, and now takes her four grandchildren to the store.

“I remember when you went down to the bottom of the store for skates,” said Rosemary. “Mike was always around and so was Al Tomiak. They were great to deal with. I got prizes from Mike when I was division manager and I went in there to pick up socks, not just in hockey, but soccer and other stuff.”

Melbourne regularly attends buying shows in places like Denver, Niagara Falls and Toronto. He just used Air Miles to take his oldest son Brandon, to an NFL Ravens’ game in Baltimore. He has coached both Brandon and son, Josh in Rep soccer. He has two adult daughters, Lindsay and Jennifer, from a previous marriage.

He credits his wife, Rhonda, with being the rock in the family.

“We’ve been married 16 years and she worked three different jobs when times were tough and we first got into the business. We wouldn’t have made it without her help.”

Mike enjoys golf and fishing, and just came out of retirement to play oldtimers hockey with the Moonshiners.

He is a huge Bobby Orr fan.

“I got to meet him three times at our hockey shows. The first time was in Boston. I cried like a baby the first two times. I have a shrine at home.”