It’s game over for Ridgewood’s Referee Store

The late great Referee Store in Ridgewood. Photo by Soccer in NYC

A few years ago, I wrote here about my favorite quirky local shop, The Referee Store in Ridgewood, the only referee-specific shop in New York City.

I loved walking by and occasionally poking in to see what was for sale because it was not the sort of business you’d expect to find in a corner storefront in a residential neighborhood about a 15-minute walk from the closest subway stop.

But the Referee Store managed to thrive in that location because it didn’t depend on foot traffic. The store was mostly a storage space and a headquarters for the online shop, and it was convenient for the owner, Rafal, who lived across the street.

I spoke with him back in 2018 about the business and his career as a pretty high-level ref, I wrote-up the interview here at Soccer in NYC and it was one of my favorite pieces for this website.

The Referee Store also earned a prominent place in the HBO series How To With John Wilson, which features many businesses and blocks in Ridgewood. It was awesome to see them play a role in that funky show — a nod to the incongruity of the shop.

So I was sad a few months ago when I saw a FOR RENT sign posted on the roll-down gate in front of the store windows. No more were the mannequins in brightly-colored referee jerseys who once stood sentry.

After a couple weeks, I looked up the store and found out that they moved to Long Island. The business was doing well, but so too was Rafal’s new aquarium company. He needed a larger space to accommodate both businesses. Plus, he had recently moved out to Suffolk County, so he set up shop in a large warehouse in an industrial park.

I wrote about the flight of the Referee Store for my paper, the Queens Daily Eagle, and the story did well. I guess a lot of people noticed the store in their travels or wondered about it after watching How To.

During the interview, Rafal and I talked about what kind of boring business will probably take over. Maybe a 99 cent store, or a security firm. Those were two of the companies that preceded The Referee Store.

Then we mused about the potential for a soccer-themed bar, which could cater to Western Queens football fans and the players who pack nearby Grover Cleveland Park for pick-up games and league matches every weekend. 

That would be an amazing addition, and it would make the corner a destination for soccer fans in and around Ridgewood, Bushwick, Maspeth and beyond.

“Soccer is alive and well in that part of Queens, but it’s such a long shot to get something viable over there,” Rafal said. “But you never know what’s going to happen in the future. A small bar could do well.”

He continues visiting his former hometown, keeping up with the local soccer scene and the referees on the rise. He said he will be following Queensboro FC, the borough’s new professional soccer club, when they begin play next year. “At heart, we’re still from Queens,” he said.

Now we just need someone with money, vision and a passion for beer and soccer to set up the bar.

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