Like so many coaches in south Louisiana, Matt McCullough has long worked with Bell's Sporting Goods to outfit his teams and stock his equipment closets.

McCullough, the head football coach at Acadiana High School, knew he could depend on the second-generation family business to go above and beyond to make sure his teams had what they needed.

"They were always able to help me out or bring me something last minute that we needed the day of a game or the day of a practice," McCullough said. "I don't think I remember ever calling and them saying they couldn't get it there for that day or that game."

It's something coaches took for granted until recently when they learned Bell's would be closing by the year's end after more than 73 years of business.

"You really could just call and get whatever you needed," said Lafayette High Head Baseball Coach Sam Taulli. "It's just a sad day because you know those people personally. I'm lost for words. It was just so convenient, and they were so friendly, and they could help you out."

Bell's will close in December.

Second-generation owner John "David" Bell III made the decision to close earlier this year after consulting with his son, who has worked at the business for 13 years.

"I told him, 'I'm not sleeping well,' " David Bell said. "We sat down and discussed it. He has had other job offers and said he'd be fine. We both agreed on it. Then came the hard part — telling my employees, some of which have been here 30 or 40 years."

Bell told his staff of about 20 people in March, just a week after making the decision. A handful of the employees have moved on to other opportunities since then. Others plan to stay until the end.

Ken Seibold, who has worked at Bell's for 43 years, is one of them.

"I'm 70 years old," Seibold said. "I was going to hang it up anyway. I'm going to stay until the end to help him out as much as possible."

Bell's kicked off its going-out-of-business sale Tuesday.

Although the store didn't publicly announce anything until this week, many coaches and other regular customers have known for months that Bell's will be closing.

"When people came in wanting to talk about uniforms for spring, we weren't going to act like we were going to take care of them when we knew that we couldn't," Bell said. "Some people you had to tell. And we figured, if we're going to tell some, you just assume tell them all. In the coaching industry, you just have to tell one, and boom! They all know. Word got around real quick."

David Bell, 70, has worked at his family's business since middle school when he would wrap fishing rods, string baseball gloves and lace tennis rackets.

He said the business continued to be profitable last year, but he wasn't sure how much longer that would be the case, citing changing consumer habits and the rise of online shopping as his primary concerns. Although large companies have tried to purchase the family business in recent years, David Bell always turned down their offers. He had seen firsthand what happened after similar companies had purchased suppliers he once worked closely with.

"It's not just happening in my business," David Bell said. "It's the way the world is changing, and my business was going to change with it. And at my age, I had the option of getting out, and that's what I chose to do. My son is looking forward to another type of career too. He told me, 'I had 12 fun years, and the last year was a grind.'"

Bell's has been operating in Lafayette since 1946.

John Bell Jr. of Franklin moved to Lafayette with his wife in the early 1940s with the intention of opening a sporting goods store.

The scholarship athlete was involved in football, tennis, baseball and pole vaulting at Louisiana State Normal School, now Northwestern State University, in Natchitoches. After coaching in Mississippi and Louisiana for a few years, John Bell realized he would have to move around if he hoped to advance his career as a coach.

That wasn't an option for him or his wife as they started a family.

"He wanted to stay in the industry and stay close to the coaches and schools," David Bell said. "He loved that business. And he came up with the idea of opening a sporting goods store, and he thought Lafayette was at the crossroads and would be a growing town."

Bell's Sporting Goods opened in 1946 in a shotgun building on Johnston Street near its intersection with Oak Street, which would later become Jefferson Street. A year later, the store moved into a larger space in the same vicinity.

In 1956, the family relocated the growing business yet again to the nearby 1005 Jefferson St. 

By 1978, they opened a second location of Bell's at its current address, 4313 Johnston St. The downtown location remained open until 2003.

Bell's has shifted its business model through the years to meet the market demand.

The store once offered hunting and fishing gear and even had a marina on New Flanders Road, now Ambassador Caffery Parkway. The family narrowed the store's focus as large retailers such as Walmart and Academy opened in Lafayette.

In recent years, Bell's has been the go-to for coaches for everything from field paint and jerseys to P.E. uniforms and gym equipment.

"My dad played all the sports. He was a competitor," David Bell said. "He just loved to win, loved to compete. He did the same thing in business. he worked hard, competed in business. It was satisfaction, growing his business and making it profitable and supporting his family."

David Bell believes his father, who died in 1993, would be more than supportive of his family's decision to close the business.

"We were lucky we had a good run for 73 years," he said. "I'm sad for my employees. I'm sad the name's not going forward, but I think my dad would be perfectly fine with our decision."

Local coaches will soon resort to other companies to meet their needs. Some plan to use Red Stick Sports of Baton Rouge or order online.

One thing is certain, though. They'll need to plan a little better because it's going to be hard to find another business willing to deliver two dozen baseballs just hours before a playoff game.

"It's going to be missing an old friend," Taulli, the Lafayette High coach, said. "That's what it is. It's familiar faces and just good people you enjoyed hanging out with."

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