Local gear shops are emerging from the COVID-19 shutdown and adjusting to an uncertain future. Here’s how you can support them.
The coronavirus pandemic dealt a serious blow to brick-and-mortar retailers that were forced to close their doors to prevent the spread of the virus. But outdoor retailers are as resilient as they come and they’ve found creative ways to survive in this difficult atmosphere. As stay-at-home restrictions ease, several of our favorite shops are re-opening with precautions in place. Here’s how they’ve handled business during the pandemic, and how outdoor recreationists can support them moving forward.
Boulder, Colorado; neptunemountaineering.com
In-Person Shopping: Neptune re-opened to in-person shopping on May 14, with reduced store hours, a limit of 10 people inside at one time, face-mask and hand sanitizer requirements, and a plexiglass barrier between the cashier and customer. With intimate interactions like footwear fitting, Neptune is “talking people through how to measure their own foot on a Brannock device, and talking them through how the boot should fit,” according to co-owner Shelley Dunbar.
Shop Online: Neptune launched its new website in December. “That’s how we’ve been surviving, our website made us better and stronger,” says Dunbar. “Even though it was a panic to get everything up there, we’re going to be better off for it in the future.”
Future Plans: Local mandates will dictate when Neptune can open its cafe and continue its in-store events; the store is considering virtual shopping experiences in the meantime. Its annual September ski swap, a Boulder favorite, is still up in the air. “That’s an outdoor event where we have tents in the parking lot, so we’re not saying for certain that we won’t do it,” says Dunbar. “Do we do it and make sure everyone is wearing masks, social distancing, and sanitizing their gear? It’s fraught with some concern, so it’s to be determined.”
Big Seller: “Our new Neptune logo tube-style neck gaiters have been a huge hit,” says Dunbar.
Denver, Colorado; wildernessx.com
In-Person Shopping: Wilderness Exchange re-opened its doors on May 15, with a limited in-store occupancy of 10 customers, widened aisles, and sanitation stations throughout. The store is executing gear fittings through a mirrored approach: Customers try on backpacks and shoes at a distance, and employees walk them through the process. “Friday was one of the most memorable days I’ve had in 20 years of business,” says owner Don Bushey. “A lot of customers just came out to see us and it was humbling to see how much opening meant to so many people—from our staff to the community.”
Shop Online: Wilderness Exchange is still encouraging customers to shop online or via phone and then pick up in-store, to help limit occupancy. “We’ve gone the extra step of saying we can have your order ready within two hours of placing it during business hours.”
Future Plans: During the 2008 recession, Wilderness Exchange actually saw an uptick in business, so it’s relying on its mission to provide affordable gear while in an economic downturn again this time round. “We’ve had twenty years of building a profitable business. This year isn’t about profitability but putting people first, keeping our heads on, and being there for the community,” says Bushey.
Golden, Colorado; bentgate.com
In-Person Shopping: On Monday, May 11, Bentgate opened to in-person shopping, with a limit of 10 people in the store at a time, including employees. The shop has implemented a quarantine policy for products customers come in contact with, sanitizing those products and removing them from the shop floor for three days, per CDC guidance.“Someone will meet you at the door and guide you through the gear experience,” says John Weir, retail manager at Bentgate. “Despite the restrictions, it’s not too far off from what our ideal shopping experience would be for the customers as far as having the one-on-one attention.”
Shop Online: “We’ve revamped some of our internet sales but also increased our capacity to handle call-in customers, because we do find that internet shopping experience leaves a lot of questions unanswered, especially for people who are unfamiliar with the gear,” says Weir.
Future Plans: Bentgate is known for its community events, and plans to pivot to a virtual experience moving forward. “During the month of April we teamed up with Denver Mountain Guides and Wild Country and we were helping them promote online courses,” says Weir. “We were getting orders using coupon codes from New Jersey and Washington… people who wouldn’t normally be part of our customer base.”
Big Seller: “We are seeing a pick up of backpacking due to people trying to get away and/or be socially distant,” says Weir, who notes that Bentgate is celebrating its 25th year in business and will be offering special deals and promos all of June.
Kristi Mountain Sports
Alamosa, Colorado; kristimountainsports.com
In-Person Shopping: Since it sells bikes, Kristi was deemed an essential business under the stay-at-home order, and permitted to stay open. As the weather warmed, the shop’s cycling business skyrocketed, and it was able to keep all of its employees staffed and busy. “We’ve never seen traffic like this before,” says Raleigh Burt, business development manager. “We’ve already sold almost an entire summer’s worth of bikes.” The shop has implemented a barrier at the front door to vet customers and deem whether it’s necessary for them to enter, and group sizes are limited to two people.
Future Plans: With its close proximity to Great Sand Dunes National Park, Kristi rents out a huge number of sand-boards, but halted rentals during the stay-at-home order. Moving forward, it plans to ramp up that business again, but that also brings a new set of challenges with out-of-towners flocking to the store. “A lot of people are coming from all over the nation and that just poses a new risk,” says Burt. “Our traffic right now has all been local, but when the sandboarding kicks back in we’ll have to find ways to keep people as healthy and safe as possible as we’re mixing the pot more than we have in the past few weeks.”
Big Seller: Scott’s Contessa Active hardtail mountain bike ($499). “Girls want bikes!” says Burt.
Jackson, Wyoming; hobacksports.com
In-Person Shopping: Hoback re-opened on May 11, with face-mask requirements and disposable masks available for those who show up without them. The store has taken a one-on-one approach to help control the social distancing inside. “We’re having one customer or family unit with one employee,” says Tom Athey, marketing and events coordinator. “We’re greeting them at the door, controlling the amount of people in the store, and doing one-on-one with them to make sure we’re all social distancing and not mingling, and we keep an eye on what people are doing.” Bike rentals are done via a “drive-through” lane next to the shop, where customers can call in and the staff will bring bikes out to them.
Shop Online: While Hoback doesn’t focus on e-commerce sales, it had a lot of success selling over the phone and email during the closure, and plans to continue that for people uncomfortable with coming into the store. “It’s a staple we’re adding to our repertoire. Everyone has a different comfort level right now and our goal is to meet that expectation,” says Athey.
Future Plans: “We’re focused on getting summer going, adding services as we have plans and practices in place,” says Athey. “We want sanitation practices on point and above expectations. If things start looking better, we may lax restrictions, but we’re looking to the county [for guidance]. The biggest thing is everything is a little harder and takes a little longer, so we just need some patience and to not overwhelm ourselves.”
Cover Photo: The crew at Alamosa’s Kristi Mountain Sports shows a little bit of levity—and boosts it up a notch with a classic EO tee. Photo courtesy Raleigh Bert.