Belmar native Dave Schofield is set to retire as the team photographer for the Lakewood BlueClaws and Trenton Thunder.

Growing up in Toms River, Ed Bush always loved sports.

“I played youth soccer, practically lived at the ballfield playing Little League, and lettered in football, baseball and bowling in high school,” shared the now 39-year old Toms River resident. “Sports were always a big part of my life.”

After graduating from Boston College, Bush took a full-time position working on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights as a manager and a merchandise buyer for games, “where I gained a lot of experience in games and visual display,” he explained. “Over my 15 years there, I went to a number of trade shows and brought in a lot of different and unique prizes beyond just stuffed animals, like bamboo plants and frames, and found others copying me, which made me realize that I might succeed in a business where I resold wholesale items.”

OCEAN COUNTY MALL: Stewart’s Root Beer coming to Ocean County Mall

FREEHOLD RACEWAY MALL: Freehold Raceway Mall undergoes major changes

Game on!

Bush went out on his own, independently reselling such items as wall-mounted aquariums and picture frames, when a certain piece of sports-related apparel caught his eye.  “I was at a small trade show one day and saw a Tom Brady NFL jersey hanging in a corner of a booth, which intrigued me,” he said. Purchasing that and other sports items on closeout, Bush opened a temporary store at the Ocean County Mall in Toms River during the 2009 holiday season to test his model and was so successful that he opened another location in Atlantic City the following year.

“It just snowballed from there,” he said, “and I decided to move towards the retail model, opening accounts with name brands like Nike and Majestic so that I could offer authentic merchandise from different leagues” and ultimately launching GameDay Sports.

At his 2,600-square-foot locations at both the Ocean County Mall and the Freehold Raceway Mall, opened within two weeks of each other in 2013 (as well as at a 2,200-square-foot outlet store offering some discounted items at Jersey Shore Premium Outlets in Tinton Falls opened in 2015), Bush offers adult and youth jerseys, T-shirts and other apparel from all types of professional teams, especially the NFL, along with team-branded headwear, mugs, picture frames, posters and other novelties as well as items affiliated with a number of college teams.

MALL CHANGE: Primark coming to Freehold Sears; what is it?

SPORTS SHOP: ‘Chick’ scores with Fair Haven athletic shop

“We have 21,000 different products in our point-of-sale system now,” Bush said. “We make our own frames in house, which remain one of our most popular sellers, and offer competitive pricing on everything.”

Among the trends he’s seen in the industry, “sports fanwear is more popular than ever, particularly for individual players and especially in the NFL based on the growth of fantasy sports – people follow their teams and leagues intensely,” Bush said. “As a result, jerseys (which sell for around $100) and snapback hats (which sell for $27 to $30) are very hot.”

And while online competitors remain a concern in both his and many other industries, “people like to see and feel things and try them on,” he said. “At the same time, the growing presence of online competitors has led many big-box and other local outlets to carry less and less of this merchandise such that we’re seeing more customers. There are fewer local opportunities to buy the variety of things that we sell and we’ve been filling that void,” he said.

TOUGH TIMES: Brick’s Jersey Paddler closes after 50 years

SPORTS COMPETITION: Sports Authority closing all stores

Top of his game

Lisa Dowd is among the many customers who are grateful for GameDay Sports.  “I have two sons, ages 16 and 12, who are very into sports and my husband is also sports-oriented,” shared the Toms River resident and high school teacher.

“We’re Cowboys and Steelers fans and it’s always so difficult to find merchandise for these teams locally. We came upon GameDay Sports one day when we were at the mall and the merchandise was the best quality and the staff went above and beyond to get what we needed,” said Dowd, who’s since purchased team-themed jerseys, pajamas, wall plaques and even Lego sets for her family. “I’ve referred many people there – they have neat products that other places don’t necessarily have, the store is well-organized, and the staff is so friendly and always willing to help.”

In addition to the difficulties of online competition, Bush said that his own locations can sometimes present challenges.

“I’m a local tenant without national name recognition, so I’m not necessarily located in the most central spot at either mall, but our spaces are phenomenal and we have lots of regular customers who know where we are,” he said. On the opportunity side, Bush is always researching interesting new items to carry and is excited about the new line of player-autographed merchandise he recently introduced as well as the fan meet-and-greet events with professional athletes that he plans to arrange at his stores.

“We also hope to add new store locations throughout New Jersey and to get even more involved in the community through Little Leagues and charitable causes to increase awareness of our stores and all that we have to offer,” Bush said.

For Bush, a married father of three sports-loving kids, GameDay represents a dream come true.

“I love talking sports with customers and kids as my job and seeing the smiles on their faces when they see all of the things that we have or something that triggers a past memory,” Bush said. “Sports are fun to watch and participate in and mine is a happy business. It’s great to see the love, joy, and happiness people have for sports and in the end, it’s just a game.”


Locations: Ocean County Mall (1201 Hooper Avenue, Toms River), Freehold Raceway Mall (3710 Route 9, Freehold), and Jersey Shore Premium Outlets (1 Premium Outlet Boulevard, Tinton Falls)

Phone: 732-504-7198 (Toms River); 732-303-7259 (Freehold Township); and 732-493-6467 (Tinton Falls)

Opened: 2013

Owner: Ed Bush

Website: www.gamedaysportsstores.com