About Fontana Sports

We are Madison’s locally owned outdoor lifestyle shop established on family values, a deep respect for nature and a passion for outdoor pursuits. Fontana Sports has been providing Wisconsin with the best in outdoor apparel, footwear, and equipment since 1949.

We provide high-quality outdoor apparel, footwear and equipment for a host of activities including hiking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, camping, travel, and climbing.

Fontana Sports is committed to making a positive impact on the environment. For this reason, we use outdoor retail as a platform to encourage outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship.

We thank you for your patronage, and for shopping locally over the many years as we continue providing Madison with the finest outdoor products!

 Madison Audubon Kestrel Banding Field Trip

Fontana Sports History

The name Fontana comes from Fontana, WI (near Lake Geneva, WI) where the store was originally founded in 1949 as a military surplus store by current President Elizabeth Ganser’s grandparents, Clarence and Beatrice Hutchinson.

Elizabeth's father, John opened his first Madison location on the one hundred block of State Street as Fontana Army Navy in 1972 after graduating from UW-Madison with a degree in Marketing. The store was remarkably successful, so John needed a larger store front. In 1974, John moved the store to 251 State Street. He began with two floors at that location and would eventually take over all four floors (10,000 square feet).  In the 70’s, customers would come to military surplus stores for camping items and as a result, John evolved his store from military surplus into the outdoor specialty retailer it is today. John is an Eagle Scout and has an amazing love for the outdoors with a passion for protecting the environment.  

From there John started working with clothing lines in the camping category, which leap-frogged into a sizeable footwear offering. John also personally enjoyed climbing, fly fishing and scuba diving so he added those departments to his offering. He became a scuba instructor and met his wife, Judith, in 1976 while instructing her Open Water Certification Course. Judith has degrees from UW-River Falls in Teaching and Counseling and was a Kindergarten teacher in De Forest. She decided to leave teaching to come work with John at Fontana once they were married as she too had the same love for the outdoors.

John and Judith had two children, Elizabeth and John J. and raised the children in part at the downtown location, where they were allowed to nap in tents and play in the warehouse. They recall the memories of growing up at Fontana fondly.

251 State Street - Hutchinsons

The store continued to develop with other locations in Madison on East Washington Avenue, Odana Road, Tree Lane, and Junction Road. John and Judith kept an eye on trends and fluctuated the brands and categories they carried at the stores, so the store stayed up to date.

Their son John worked on and off at the stores while he was in college, which was hard because he went to the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. After graduating with a degree in Retail (runs in the family!) he stayed in Minneapolis to get married and went on to complete his MBA at the University of St. Thomas.

Hutchinson Ski Trip

After their daughter, Elizabeth, graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in Retail in 2005, she joined Fontana Sports full-time as Assistant Manager. Over time she transitioned into buying and marketing which lead to becoming part owner in Fontana Sports in 2011. Elizabeth’s husband Tom joined the family in 2015. He and their two daughters can be found helping out at our many Fontana events and runs. 

John and Judith retired in 2021 when Elizabeth took over the business. 

Fontana Sports currently has a downtown Madison location at 216 North Henry Street, with its online shop, FontanaSports.com

Iceland 2018.