NEW YORK—On May 18, 1992, a New York City institution for tennis fans was born when Grand Central Racquet opened its doors in Manhattan’s famed Grand Central Terminal.
The concept was simple: Commuters would drop off their racquets at Woody Schneider’s kiosk, he and his staff would restring them during business hours and, before catching their trains home, they would pick them up freshly restrung.
Same-day service at its finest.
Twenty-five years later, Schneider, the owner, is still stringing racquets at that location and offering his expertise on tennis, racquetball, squash, badminton, platform tennis, table tennis and frescobol.
Over time, despite many ups and downs and trials and tribulations, the business has expanded greatly. Schneider opened up another location, on 44th Street between Madison and Vanderbilt Avenues, in 2000. (Schneider could finally do business above ground, he jokes.)
Then in 2005, in what Schneider describes as one of those unexplainable moments that you just marvel at, he and Joan Dziena—his business partner and later girlfriend—were approached by the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the site of the US Open. The NTC Pro Shop opened in Flushing Meadows shortly thereafter, and their fourth location—NYC Racquet Sports on 35th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue—debuted around the same time.
All four stores remain fully operational to this day. Schneider and his team are most well-known for their stringing, but they also sell racquets, strings, grips, accessories and apparel. One of the cornerstones of Schneider’s enterprise is that he offers one-on-one advice and consultation, personalizing the experience for his customers based on their comfort and skill levels. And perhaps most importantly, making the decision easy and painless.
“I know that when people walk in here and they’re given my service, and I’m able to explain to them what they’re actually getting, I don’t think that reading that in a blog … I simplify it,” Schneider says. “I’m like the king of the one-minute racquet sale because it should be that simple … I ask [my customers] maybe two or three questions, tops. The rest is up to me to guide them.”
Schneider was born and raised in Hollis, Queens, not far from where John McEnroe grew up—although he admittedly preferred Bjorn Borg to the American—and he takes tremendous pride in the loyalty that he’s given and received over the past quarter-century.
In 25 years, he’s never laid off an employee. He’s also formed a meaningful, lasting camaraderie with customers who have been coming to him for years. (Many have become great friends of his.) Schneider has welcomed many famous pros in his store over the years, which he certainly appreciates—he’s strung for Serena Williams, Andy Roddick and the Bryan brothers, to name a few—but that doesn’t tickle him the way it would many.
For Schneider, it’s all about the average Joe. The common man. You and me. That’s who, above all, he enjoys taking care of.
“Honestly, I’m not the guy who wants to string for the stars,” Schneider says. “I want to string for the regular people because I’m a regular person.”
It hasn’t been easy for Schneider the last decade. He maintains that he’s lived his dream—you can tell that he truly means that when he says it—but over the years he’s had to adjust and adapt to stay afloat in an era of online shopping and massive corporate distributors.
The 61-year-old former singer/songwriter can’t compete with the big boys, something he’s well aware of. But Schneider has built a reputation that means something, and despite the fears, troubles and sleepless nights, he’s persevered and continues to live his dream, his passion.
“How do I fight [the competition]?” Schneider asks rhetorically. “By giving service that’s unheard of. Am I going to tell somebody that came from Jersey City that they have to come back tomorrow or two days later? Hell no. I’m gonna get it done for them.”
Will Grand Central Racquet and its sister stores be around for another 25 years? It’s impossible to know what the future holds. But one thing is for sure: The sport of tennis, its fans and its players will be better off if they are.