Meet Your Tahoe Merchant: Supporting family, community at Willard’s
Special to the Sun
What: Willard’s Sports Shop
Location: 170 North Lake Blvd., Tahoe City
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Upon visiting Willard’s Sports Shop in late June — the time of year the shop really gears for — one gets the sense of an international airport, considering the array of accents coming through the door.
Then there is the range of questions — “Do you sell paddleboards?”; “Can you help me get sunscreen out of my eye?”; and, most notably, “Where is the lake?”
“You have no idea how many people ask where the lake is,” owner Chris Willard said with a laugh.
Willard’s Sports Shop, formerly named Squaw Valley Sports Shop, is located at 170 North Lake Blvd., right in front of the lake. It’s owned by Dennis and Chris Willard, and their sons Dax and Piquet.
“The shop,” as it is referred to by the family, rents and sells gear in the winter and spends the offseason switching over to serve the summer.
Dax and Piquet work full time at the shop and help their parents keep up with growing trends in the business.
“They’ve taught me a lot of things that have helped me broaden my way of thinking,” said Chris of her sons.
Within the last few years Dax has brought paddleboards in to the shop, something he is passionate about.
Dax races paddleboards in the area and worked hard to convince his parents it was a smart move for Willard’s.
“We help our parents get their eye on what the younger generation is into, a fresher eye on the trends,” he said.
Willard’s Sports Shop now carries six different brands of stand-up paddleboards for rental and for retail.
“We try to have everything a customer needs when they come up here,” Chris said.
The week of July 4th means being stocked, trained and “ready to rock,” Dax said, as people don’t trickle in like the rest of the summer. Rather, they flood in, asking for bike rentals, raft purchases, towels, life vests, repairs, kayaks or paddleboard tours.
“People come in and ask for Dax,” said employee Ashley Miller. “You can tell the family is dedicated to the store, the family and the community.”
The Willards say they have a passion for Tahoe and for the people here. After 35 years in the business, the family advocates for supporting locally owned businesses throughout Tahoe.
“It’s important to support local because the money stays in the community,” Dax said.
Dax is the father of two small children, and his wife Kimberly teaches skiing at Squaw Valley.
Like his brother and mom, he has bright blue eyes and dark hair. His ponytail of thick wavy hair hangs down his back, and he wears board shorts and Rainbows.
“We eat at local restaurants, employ local people,” Dax said. “To keep commerce alive, people have to spend money locally. Otherwise there are more and more empty spaces around town.”
Like so many local families, the Willards have made it through up and down winters and short summers, always thankful for the local support.
Originally from Stockton, Dax’s parents moved to Bear Valley and then to Kirkwood, but it was on their frequent trips to Tahoe that Chris knew she wanted to live here.
“As long as there was mountains, Dennis was on board,” Chris said of her husband.
The couple opened Squaw Valley Sports Shop at Squaw Valley and the second location in Tahoe City a few years later.
Chris and Dennis ran a shop, along with raising their boys, saying that skiing was often their “babysitter service.”
“I always wanted them to be skiers,” Chris said.
Piquet and Dax grew up with a passion for skiing and for sports in the Tahoe area, making them good shop owners today and able to take over for their father, who is now semi-retired.
“My brother and I enjoy what Tahoe has to offer, and we like to share that with people,” Dax said. “It’s fun to sell fun.”
There is such a thing as loving a place to death, and with the growing masses visiting Lake Tahoe every year, overtourism is a top issue.