City Racquet Shop provides hands-on experience for a hands-on sport, connecting customers to the world of tennis in a way that’s just not available online.
Nestled in New Mission Terrace, City Racquet Shop opened on San Jose Avenue in August 2011. Last year, co-owners Marla Reid and Sheila Mackay moved a block down the street from their original location, also on San Jose, closer to Balboa Park.
The specialty store is the only one devoted to tennis in the city. Racquets, tennis sneakers and accessories line the walls, and vintage wooden racquets are displayed in the window along with posters of tennis greats like Billie Jean King, root their business in tennis history. They’ve recently added the accouterments for pickleball, a sport that’s a take on tennis and growing in popularity, featuring whiffle-like balls and paddles.
“We also give recommendations for classes and teaching pros,” Reid said. “I didn’t want us to just be a retail shop” but a hub for all things tennis.
A love and long-term history with the game prompted the store’s opening. Co-owner Marla Reid grew up playing tennis in Southern California, where she was a member of a national championship league, and most recently coached at San Francisco State. Mackay, a National Collegiate Athletic Association athlete, is an avid player with a background in management and customer service.
“It’s my passion, it’s what I love, it’s what I know,” Reid said.
For year as a player and coach, Reid heard people ask where they could get their racquet re-strung or purchase new shoes, and wanted to bring her knowledge and experience to the retail side of a sport that has given her so much.
“We get customers into a new racquet — it’s a nominal investment, you have it for many years,” Reid said as she re-strung a racket on a loom-like device in the corner of the shop. “I even have people coming in here with their old wooden racquets.”
If you play tennis three times a week, your racquet should be re-strung three times a year, according to Reid. The service costs around $18 to $20, plus the cost of the strings.
“Typically, weight is your friend in tennis,” Reid said. The heavier racket, the better. Many people come in the store after looking online and becoming overwhelmed with choices.
The pair chose the location because of the neighborhood. Its less-expensive rents, the J Church line running right outside, Balboa Park BART Station and a proximity to freeway 280 makes it easy for customers to get to. Balboa Park is right next door, and the owners are thrilled with its ongoing improvements — a result of bond money — including revamped courts, and the swimming pool renovations currently underway.
On the counter, the City Racquet Shop has a map of San Francisco’s public tennis courts. A player’s other options are mostly pricy, private clubs. In order to be usable, tennis courts need maintenance — regular resurfacing, new nets, powerful lights for night matches and often, in blustery San Francisco, special fences to block the wind from blowing away the ball and affecting the game.
Some courts, like the ones at the recently fixed-up and more-popular-than-ever Dolores Park, were recently renovated. Others are unusable. Large cracks and a saggy net mar a nearby court at the Excelsior Playground, and the adjacent basketball court is no better. Reid suggests calling 311 regarding public park maintenance requests, though sometimes even unusable courts are still not next in line for upgrades.
The store’s newer spot is a former auto-parts store with big windows and an expansive, quintessentially San Francisco view of houses climbing up the hill that forms John McLaren Park. The previous owner, who moved back to his native Germany after retiring, told them how much he loved looking out the windows while he was working.
A customer walks in who’s been perusing rackets online, but can’t decide without holding them in her hand.
Reid shows her their wall of rackets and explains the store’s demo program: A $50 fee gives access to unlimited demo racquets within a two-month period. Each demo racket can be used for up to three days, and the $50 fee will be applied towards the purchase of any new racquet valued at $50 or higher.
Reid coaches the woman on her grip size, demonstrating the hands-on assistance available at the store. Her love and devotion to the sport is apparent.
“I think tennis is alive and well — and doing well in the city,” Reid said.
City Racquet Shop is located at 1836 San Jose Ave. This article first appeared in the Light’s March 2017 print edition.
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