Wichita The Rusty's Outdoor Sports chain will close its four remaining Kansas stores early next year after 18 months of losses.
Rusty's, based in Wichita, has two stores there and one each in Salina and Topeka. The 21-year-old chain closed one store in Wichita in 1999, one in Lawrence in 2000 and one in Hutchinson this year.
Ken McGee, the company's president, said competition from newcomers Dick's Sporting Goods and Gart Sports wasn't to blame.
When the economy slumps, McGee said, people spend less for discretionary items such as sporting goods.
"The biggest thing is that people just aren't spending money," he said. "It's real tough out there. If the economy is bad, they don't need our stuff."
McGee also blamed the warm weather during fall hunting season the past three years.
A recent study by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Assn. found the number of people participating in sports has remained flat since 1998, while the number of people fishing dropped about 10 percent.
Overall athletic sales nationwide dropped nearly 2 percent between 2000 and 2001, the group said.
The company that owns Rusty's, RAM Distributing Co., is owned by McGee and Larry Arbuckle.
Rusty's was founded in 1981 by longtime friends and partners McGee, Arbuckle and the late Ron "Rusty" Rust.
They worked together for more than 20 years at David's, a long-departed local discount store, starting out in the sporting-goods section and building up a clientele among local hunters and fishers.
When that chain ran into difficulties, the three decided to start their own business.
"Rusty really had a following," McGee said. "As soon as we opened our doors, guys would be coming in saying, 'Hey, Rusty!' He was real flamboyant and could talk to anybody."
Its business grew steadily, and beginning in 1989 it branched out into general sporting goods and additional stores.