Koch Sporting Goods: 130-year-old business started with and stayed with embroidery

130-year-old business started with and stayed with embroidery (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - It's a popular destination for anyone looking for a sports jersey, ball glove or team uniforms, but you may not know how Koch Sporting Goods got its start.

One local family has stitched together a business that has lasted 130 years.

When you walk into Koch Sporting Goods in downtown Cincinnati, you are likely to run into a Koch.

Greg Koch and his brother Chris Koch are always behind the counter, as is Greg's son Eric. Chris's daughter Cassie runs the sewing shop upstairs. There seems to be just the right number of Koch's in this “kitchen”.

The name has been on the door since 1888 when great-grandfather Edward Maximillian Koch took over a company he'd worked for since he was 10.

“After it was the E.M. Koch company making braids, tassels, theatre curtains, lampshades dress supplies, belts, buckles along with doing some embroidery,” said Greg Koch, President of Koch Sporting Goods.

A far cry from balls, bats and caps but there is a thread connecting five generations of Kochs.

Actually lots of threads. In a third-floor office, Greg proudly shows off a 95-year-old sample book with a cover embroidered by his great uncle Frank. The samples are spectacular.

“A lot can't do a lot of this. This is an art that is becoming lost,” said Greg.

Lost in part to automation. Koch's sewing shop is more machine than man nowadays, but the art is still alive in seamstresses like Joanie Sagel. She says her chain-stitch machine is an extension of her hands. Her freehand monograms turn a shirt into a uniform. A name into a player.

A look at Koch's books from the 40's and 50's shows just how important those machines were in the company's bowling shirt business.

“So our biggest bowling shirt customers were Burger, Wiedemann, Hudepohl and Schoenling, and it amounted to about 50 percent of our business. Just those four guys,” said Greg

When Greg's dad, Ed, took over the business in 1959, he used his bowling shirt contacts to make the leap to team uniforms, and the modern Koch's was taking shape.

Koch's has been on 4th Street for 56 years. In 1962, they moved into 133 West 4th and in 1974 they moved next door to 131 West 4th.

The building has five floors, two basements and a freight elevator that looks like it’s ready to retire. Every square inch is used: Sewing shop, silkscreen shop, lots of storage and areas that are museums to sewing, button making and belting. The first floor could outfit just about any squad for any sport in any color.

The older Koch’s not only can sell them, they can sew them, anything. Some things never change.

“To be able to keep it going and be able to pass it on. I owe a lot to my family,” said Greg. “You know I'm proud of what my family has done to keep it going.”

From Edward Maximillian to Edward Gregory Koch and beyond, the colorful mix of business, art and sports is still clicking, and not about to run out the string.

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