It was just a typical late-summer, sunny day at Lake Forest’s Kiddles Sports with families coming and going, stocking up on back-to-school team uniforms and sporting goods. At least it was, until Lake Forest High School alum and Hollywood megastar Vince Vaughn walked in to buy bicycles for his children while they were visiting town.
But as typical of the customer service delivered at Kiddles Sports, Aric Shlifka didn’t want to sell bikes that Vaughn’s children weren’t ready to ride.
“I went and pulled some bikes from the garage that looked to be about the right size for Vince’s kids to learn how to ride,” explains Aric. “I let him borrow them until he was sure what they wanted. I’m looking forward to him letting us know how the riding lessons went.”
You don’t have to be in the movies to receive this kind of star treatment from the Shlifka Family—Jay and Denise and their sons Aric and Lee, as well as their long-time staffers—it’s the norm for all who have crossed their threshold for the last 50 years. Kiddles Sports is a third-generation family-owned sporting goods and bicycle store. Established in 1968 by Ron, Millie, and Jay Shlifka, this shop was built on providing personal, customized, and knowledgeable service. Whether you need a pair of running shoes, a new bicycle, or you are designing custom team uniforms, Kiddles is there to help you with their extensive knowledge.
“Online retailers are always going to have more merchandise than us,” adds Lee, who says the family pays great attention to what their customers want and purchase their inventory accordingly. “We watch what turns, but bikes, shoes, and any type of customization still make up the major portion of our sales.”
As far as working side-by-side with family, the Shlifkas make it look effortless. “Even though we see a lot of one another, we each have our different roles,” says Aric who is the primary buyer for what’s shown on the store floor. His father keeps the books, and Lee manages the team and corporate merchandise orders. “We’re definitely organized differently than when my Dad ran the store with my grandfather where they tended to overlap roles,” adds Lee, mentioning Howie Zolt (who has been with Kiddles for almost 40 years) and his mother Denise who tend to be the faces customers first see when they first enter the store. “When people stop by, it’s like they’re coming into our home. At the end of the day, it’s about more than the dollar—it’s what their experience was like when they were here. We’re not just selling them something. We’re helping them solve a problem or maybe even a live a little healthier.”
When asked what has been the biggest change in his 50 years with Kiddles Sports, the family patriarch can’t help but be sentimental.
“I think what’s more remarkable is what hasn’t changed—the virtues and values we see every day from our customers,” Jay explains. “My Dad taught me that you have to love what you do and as long as the boys and I continue to love this—there will always be Kiddles Sports. This is more than a business, we’re really part of the fabric of this community. If our customers thought it would help them for me to learn how to fly, I would do it because that’s how much this community means to me.”
Kiddles Sports is located at 258 Market Square in Lake Forest. For more information, call 847-234-0025 or visit kiddlessports.com.