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Nobert Olberz, founder of La Cañada-based Sport Chalet, dies

Former WW II pilot Norbert Olberz created a sporting goods empire.

July 18, 2011|By Daniel Siegal, daniel.siegal@latimes.com
  • Founder of Sport Chalet Nobert Olberz. (File photo)
Founder of Sport Chalet Nobert Olberz. (File photo)

Norbert Olberz, the founder of La Cañada Flintridge-based Sport Chalet, died Friday, a company spokesperson announced. He was 86.

Olberz, who arrived in the U.S. in 1955 after immigrating to Canada from his native Germany, was a fixture of the La Cañada business community and the driving force behind the recently constructed Town Center.

Olberz built Sport Chalet from a humble winter-sports-gear retailer in 1959 into a publicly-traded sporting-goods empire that now comprises 55 locations.

Craig Levra, the chairman and chief executive of Sport Chalet, said Olberz was the driving force behind the company.

“Norbert meant everything to Sport Chalet. He taught us how to run retail,” said Levra. “And [Olberz was] such a great leader, you know, an innovator of product, [he] took pride in listening to the customers and responding.”

Olberz’s greatest impact on La Cañada Flintridge can be seen on Foothill Boulevard at Angeles Crest Highway, where the Town Center finally opened in 2008 decades after he originally conceived the idea and began purchasing property.

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The 7.6-acre shopping center recently was sold by the family to the Los Angeles-based IDS Real Estate Group for more than $40 million, but officials said the project stands as a testament to Olberz’s willingness to fight for three decades to get it built.

Mayor David Spence, who joined the City Council in 1992, said seeing Olberz contend with vitriolic opposition to the Town Center plan helped motivate him to get into politics.

“People had the attitude that we were a sleepy little community and they didn’t want anybody to see any major developments,” Spence said. “I think it was his German stubbornness and his tenaciousness that made him push on.”

Levra remembered this same stubbornness as one of the qualities that helped Olberz grow Sport Chalet.

“He was so passionate about the business...trying to do everything right. He used to kid around a lot that they called him ‘the micromanager;’ no detail was too small,” Levra said.

Olberz served as Sport Chalet's chief executive until 1999 and as chairman of the board of directors until 2001, according to the company.

Sport Chalet has only recently started to rebound from the hard financial hit it took during the recession.

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