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Just as Washington D.C. prides itself on its political history, Ski Center- the oldest ski shop in the South- prides itself on providing the greater metro D.C. area with ski equipment for over 42 years. Ski Center was first opened in 1959 by Adam Kahane, a polish immigrant, who hailed from a long line of skiers (his aunt was among the first women to ski in Poland before the First World War). After arriving in the U.S. in 1948, Kahane received his master’s degree and worked for the CIA. But the CIA didn’t hold his interest. “My wife had a good head for business and I had a MBA from Columbia. The only thing I knew was skiing,” recalls Kahane. They rented two rooms in a basement, opened up a ski shop and ran buses to local ski areas.
The two basement rooms lead to three sprawling floors inside a historic brick building in downtown D.C. where Ski Center has been located since 1973. At the age of 79, Kahane is still an avid skier and managed to fit in 40 days of skiing in 2000-01. He was recently made an honorary member for life of the Ski Club of Washington D.C. for his contribution to the area’s skiing community. Although his son Stuart now runs the business, Kahane still spends time on the sales floor helping customers.
Through Kahane’s influence, Ski Center has always been a family oriented business. The staff often greets customers by their first names and customers who came to the ski shop as children now bring their own kids. The employees feel like family too; Ski Center closes one day a year for an employee ski day. Eight of Ski Center’s managers have worked at the store for a decade or more. Boyd McHugh, General Manager and Brian Eardley, Equipment Buyer, have each been there for 24 years. Eardley was named a top bootfitter by SKI Magazine. “We have good people working for us,” says Kahane. “Our employees are skiers and we want our customers to enjoy the sport that we all love too.”
Kahane’s philosophy on running a business was passed from generation to generation just like his love for skiing. “My grandfather in the old country owned a shop. There was a sign hanging which said, ‘If you’re happy with our services, tell your friends. If you’re not happy, tell me.’ I always remember that sign,” reflects Kahane.
Ski Center has come a long way since acquiring their first ski contract. “In 1962, Head had the most important skis-the Head Standard. We got the contract and it was good for business,” says Kahane. Now Ski Center sells the top skis, boots and bindings on the market including Volkl, Salomon, Atomic, Rossignol, Fischer, Dynastar, Tecnica, Raichle, and Lange.
The warm, mostly wood décor of Ski Center and the friendly staff envelops customers as they enter the shop. Adult clothing is located on the first floor (Descente, Marmot, Bonfire, Solstice, Marker, Obermeyer, Metropolis, Burton, Bogner, Spyder, Patagonia, North Face, Arc Terx, Killy, Eider, Mountain Hardware) and the other floors house skis, boots, bindings and a ski service shop.
The Kahanes have seen their share of famous personalities come into the store: the Kennedy clan, President Ford, former Vice President Quayle and the Clintons. Ski Center has even been known to visit both the White House and the Vice President’s house- making house calls- just like the old days.