By Jim Maggiore
People of a certain age in our community no doubt have personal recollections of Ed Stack, the billionaire businessman who turned his father’s unassuming business into a retailing behemoth whose name, Dick’s Sporting Goods, belies its nationwide influence and expanse.
Ed grew up on Binghamton’s East Side, on Ardsley Avenue, and divided his boyhood summers between working at his father’s store at 354 Court Street and playing pickup baseball and football games at Fairview Park.
Now Ed lives in Pittsburgh and Florida, but in between he built a business empire based on the lessons he learned by growing up right here in Binghamton. In his 2019 book, “It’s How You Play the Game: Build A Business. Take A Stand. Make a Difference,” he provides an unabashed look at how the retail empire of DSG was built and how his relationship with his father and his hometown influences him to this day.
Though he takes us on an erudite retailing journey, Stack writes in a populist style—you won’t need to have a dictionary handy as you turn Stack’s pages, but every once in a while you’ll flinch at his colorful language. Fear of displaying himself in an unpopular light is minimal. He attributes his decision to uproot his family from Binghamton and move DSG’s corporate headquarters from the Binghamton area to Pittsburgh to either being done because of “balls or brains.” He talks of how he loves to compete in a “street fight” with his competitors, and of how his dad didn’t speak to him for a full year after he fired his brother for failing to follow a corporate directive.
Throughout the book Stack has lessons to give and he doles them out the way a coach does on an athletic field. “Discipline, execution, and endurance are not only keys to success in sports, but in life as well,” he exhorts. Winning or losing on the athletic field is not as important as learning from the experience of competing on the athletic field. “Everyone needs to belong” and sports teams are one way of experiencing this feeling he opines, also offering that after-school activities of any kind are essential for developing this feeling among our nation’s youth.
Very few topics are off bounds; he is frank as he discusses the tough-love relationship he had with his dad and the many disagreements they had about running the business. He explains how he balanced the financial aspect of his business with the civic responsibility he felt when he banned the sale of the AR-15 modern sporting rifle from DSG stores after the Newtown mass killing on December 14, 2012. No doubt the longtime Binghamton resident will find Stack’s stories about growing up on the East Side of the city the most interesting. Stack’s story reinforces not only the legacy of this town, but its resiliency and spirit as well, and his story echoes that of sundry others who have gone on to national fame while forever holding this town in a warm and reflective light, including: actor Jeremy Davidson (Greenberg); the Johnson family; Arthur, Chandler, and Jon Jones; Isaiah Kacyvenski; Edwin Link; Rod and Robert Serling; Thomas Tull; Thomas Watson, and so many more.