Bob Suter UW mug

Bob Suter during his Wisconsin career.

The salesperson fumbled with the charge card. "This is the first time I've done one of these," he apologized while running the charge slip through a stubborn machine that would not cooperate.

Finally registering the sale, he sighed and turned the new skates over to the man and his son. There was a brief pause.

"Get it. Go ahead. Get it," the man instructed, nudging his son in the ribs. "Bobby, could I please have your autograph?"

The salesperson nodded his head and smiled. He scribbled his signature on a team picture of the United States hockey Olympians.

There was some small talk about Lake Placid before the man and his son, the box of skates under his arm, left the store. The salesperson sighed again, and grabbed a can of soda.

Standing behind the counter, he looked basically the same as he did at Lake Placid last February when the gold medal was placed around his neck. Some of the glow was gone, though, and forever will be. The fascination of the experience has worn off.

Bobby Suter, a member of the 1980 Olympic hockey team, is tackling a new challenge in a world that he knows very little about — the business world.

Call it the real world, if you choose, for it is quite a distance from the world of ABC, Jim Craig draped in Old Glory, ticker tape parades and Mike Eruzione on the top platform of the medal stand.

It's quite a switch for Suter, who would rather face the Russians on successive nights than a hostile customer early in the morning.

"I'm not quite used to dealing with people yet; I'm still shy," he said.

But he has accepted the challenge, as he has most others (including a broken ankle which threatened to keep him out of the Olympics), and he's determined to make a go of it.

"I don't think I'm going to miss hockey. Besides, further down the road, hopefully this will pay off," he said.

Two weeks ago, the doors opened on Suter's Gold Medal Sports & Bait Shop at 1713 Commercial Avenue; one-half block from Hartmeyer Ice Arena on Madison's east side. The proprietor, of course, is Bobby Suter, formerly of Madison East High School, the University of Wisconsin and the Olympic team.

Hanging from the window is a hockey sweater with the large block letters "USA" on the front and the No. 20 on the back. Olympic memorabilia are prominent throughout the shop.

There are snapshots (of Herb Brooks) and posters (of Suter and Mark Johnson) rekindling the spirit and the energy of Lake Placid on the Walls. They also serve as a reminder to Bobby Suter who said, "the glitter Is gone. It's time to get to work."

AND THERE has been plenty of work to do. "When I first saw the building," said Diane Suter, "I thought it should be condemned."

When Bobby Suter first saw the building, One month after the Olympics, he saw something else. He saw his own sporting goods business.

It was a matter of getting Diane, his Wife, to focus on the potential of such a business rather than the ruins of the building that he purchased with the aid of several investors.

The work began. And the walls crumbled. Weeknights, weekends. Suter enlisted both families to hammer away in the construction. "We didn't have any plans," Suter said. "No blueprints. We just did whatever we felt was right at the time."

The project turned out well. There is a two-bedroom apartment in the rear of the two-story building — home for Bobby, Diane, and five-month-old Justin Suter.

And there is a small, but adequate store up front. Suter is dealing primarily in hockey equipment and bait. He inherited the latter business from the previous owner and, he conceded, "I hadn't fished since I was 10 years old. But I'm starting to learn about worms and minnows."

Much of the initial investment went into stock — sticks, pads and helmets. Suter is hoping to equip most of the youth hockey teams, and some of the high school teams, in the area. His prices are reasonable. The bookwork, though, has been a pain. "There's more to business than I thought there was," he said.

THE LOS ANGELES Kings of National Hockey League have offered Bobby Suter a contract for this season. But he has resisted the temptation to strap on the skates again.

"Next year I might consider it," Suter said. "I just don't want to spend the rest of my life on buses in the minor leagues."

For now, the business is consuming all of his time. "When I get more organized," he said, "I won't be doing so much. It's been fun, though. The people, especially, on the east side, have been really good to me. I haven't had to work in 23 years, and now I'm finding out what it's all about."

The shop is open seven days a week, and the shaggy-haired fellow behind the counter is more than willing to accommodate all requests for autographs. He'll even talk hockey, if that's your pleasure — no purchase required. "But it would help," Bobby Suter said.

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