A Grassroots Outdoor Alliance award is a very big deal. The group, which is a consortium of 64 independent outdoor specialty retailers and 68 vendor partners, represents the best of specialty retail. The awards, which will be given out on June 13, 2018 on night one of the Grassroots Connect Show in Knoxville, Tennessee, are voted on by members in recognition of exceptional work and leadership.

Historically, four awards have been given out for Retailer of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Vendor of the Year, and Sales Manager of the Year. This year for the first time, Grassroots has added three new categories for retailers: Advertising, Community & Events, and Merchandising Magic.

"The scope of great work that’s going on at specialty retail is pretty amazing right now,” says Drew Simmons, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance communications manager. This year, Grassroots decided to announce the full roster of nominees in advance of the show, because, as Simmons says “It doesn’t tell the whole story to just highlight the winners. Plus, people are interested and want to know who the leaders are in specialty retail and how they’re pulling it all together.”

Here is the full roster of nominees:


  • Bill Jackson's Shop for Adventure in Pinellas Park, Florida “We’re not a big-box store. We’re independent, family-owned and operated... We help customers chase their passions, helping them plan and conquer their next adventure. An often-told story that sums up Bill Jackson’s goes like this: A customer turned to a longtime employee and said, ‘I can go down the street and get this lantern $2 cheaper. Why should I buy it here?’ Without missing a beat, the employee said, ‘Because we can show you how to light it.’” (Owners: Darry & Doug Jackson. Established 1946. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Member since 2002).
  • The Mountaineer in Keene Valley, New York “We are truly part of the Keene Valley and Adirondack community... We live and breathe climbing, trail running, ski mountaineering, hiking, camping, and fly fishing. We work hard to make sure our customers leave the store with the right gear, inspired for whatever adventure they are embarking upon.” (Owner: Vinny McClelland. Established 1975. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Member since 2013)

Rock/Creek, which was recently purchased by Uncle Dan's a subsidiary of publicly-traded behemouth, Camping World, was a pillar of the Grassroots community for years, winning Retailer of the Year four times. But Grassroots recently released Rock/Creek from the group because of their new status.

Check out our #CoolShop profile of The Mountaineer.

  • Pack Rat Outdoor Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas “Our staff is involved: they design our events, plan clinics and provide the highest level of customer service possible. We have so many talented team members who all contribute something unique to the Pack Rat. We work together to keep ideas fresh and make changes.” (Owners: Carolyn & Scott Crook. Established 1973. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Member since 2004.)

Watch our interview with Pack Rat owner Carolyn Crook, where she speaks passionately about her innovative solar project.

  • Sunlight Sports in Cody, Wyoming “We are all about the experience in Northwest Wyoming. We don't want to be generic in any way -- we are the outdoor store that could only exist in this place. We are truly entrenched in our local community, giving at least 2% of our gross sales back to locally based charities that get youth outdoors every year.” (Owners: Melissa & Wes Allen. Established 1971. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Member since 2012).

Check out our #CoolShop profile of Sunlight Sports.

Nominees for GRASSROOTS ROOKIE OF THE YEAR (honoring a new Grassroots member) 

  • Cascades Outdoor Store in Winthrop, Washington  “Cascades Outdoor Store tries to embody the spirit and practice of the model small town specialty retail store. This centers around two things: offering a hand-curated selection of clothing and gear crafted for the outdoors, and an enthusiastic staff that goes out of its way to engage with every customer, sharing their expertise in every department of the store.” (Owners: Brian & Amy Sweet. Established in 2014. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Member since 2017).
  • Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, Vermont “The two things that really make OGE special is the breadth of product selection and the awesome staff. We stock gear for camping, hiking, biking, climbing, paddling, snow sliding and backyard adventures and do all with great breadth to try and address the needs of all users .... Our staff are all users and work to educate customers about the best choices they can make for their particular needs.” (Owners: Mike Donohue & Marc Sherman. Established in 1995. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Member since 2017).

Learn what makes OGE such a #CoolShop.

  • Townsend Bertram & Co. in Carrboro, North Carolina “Our core values are adventure, community and passion, and guide our decision-making on every level. We take pride in making our shop inclusive and accessible for all types of adventurers. We’ve developed creative community partnerships with nonprofits and local businesses … Our community events always focus on accessibility and inclusion, like our free all levels monthly yoga, family camping trips, and community trash pick-ups.” (Owners: Audrey & the late Scott Bertram. Established in 1988. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Member since 2017).

Betsy Bertram wrote this op-ed for SNEWS, dropping some hiring wisdom and tips


  • Astral  “Astral’s roots run deep with outdoor specialty and we share similar DNA to many of our Grassroots retail partners … Our founder and many of our staff have worked in outdoor specialty retail, so our team truly knows the benefits of the specialty shopping experience.” (Owner & Sales Manager: Phillip Curry, Bryan Owen. Established 2002, Grassroots Vendor Partner since 2010).
  • EXPED “EXPED supports specialty retail because it represents the highest form of the art of salesmanship and our customers deserve nothing less. This is why EXPED only sells its gear through specialty retail stores.” (Owner/Sales Manager: Ted Steudel. Established 1997, Grassroots Vendor Partner since 2016.)
  • NEMO Equipment “We passionately support specialty retail because it is essential for a healthy outdoor industry, a vital component of the outdoor community, and because there is no future for specialty brands like NEMO without specialty retail.” (Owner/Sales Manager: Cam Brensinger. Established 2002, Grassroots Vendor Partner since 2013.)

We asked NEMO founder Cam Brensinger what he does to be a good partner to his specialty retailers

  • Toad&Co. “For over 22 years Toad & Co has been steadfastly committed to Outdoor Specialty Retail ...It is our belief that Outdoor Specialty Retailers unify and connect people around a common cause: the love for the outdoors.” (Owner & Sales Management: Gordon Seabury, Scott Whipps, & Nina Brito. Established 1991, Grassroots Vendor Partner since 1998).

Here's just one way Toad&Co is an innovator.


  • Andy Burke at prAna  “Andy’s willingness to hear the good and the bad, stay in-tune with retailers and challenges in the market, show that Andy is dedicated to and passionate about being a part of Grassroots vendor community.” (Established 1992, Grassroots Vendor Partner since 2010.)
  • Todd Givnish at Smartwool “Todd is a thoughtful, strategic, and engaged sales manager ...Todd takes initiative to gather feedback on retailer needs, get to know Grassroots, and continually strives to improve relationships and strengthen partnerships. Todd’s interesting blend of experience; industry and non-industry, vendor, retailer, and buyer, provides him unique perspective and knowledge that works to his benefit in his role at Smartwool.” (Established 1994, Grassroots Vendor Partner since 1998.)
  • Ryan Krusemark at KÜHL “Ryan is very responsive to any issues or communication, positive or negative. He truly "gets specialty", he aims to be a partner not just a vendor in our store”. Ryan’s work has elevated KÜHL from vendor to true partner to Grassroots member retailers … Ryan truly cares about keeping specialty retail healthy because it’s vital to the success of KÜHL and the future of specialty retail in our industry.” (Established 1993, Grassroots Vendor Partner since 2011).
  • Steve Talacki at Mountain Khakis “Steve is one of the more thoughtful, open minded sales managers we work with on the Grassroots side. Always open for a tough discussion, (Steve keeps) specialty retailers at the forefront of discussions at Mountain Khakis. Steve constantly asks for feedback on what retailers are feeling in the market and how MK can adjust to meet their needs. These are not easy things to ask for and show the true mark of an engaged member of our vendor community that values the opinion of specialty retailers.” (Established 2003, Grassroots Vendor Partner since 2016.)


*The videos below are must-watch!

Mahoney's Outfitters in Johnson City, Tennessee
(Owners: Dan & Sean Mahoney Established 1960. Grassroots Member since: 2014)

Eagle Eye Outfitters in Dothan, Alabama

(Owners: Mark & Susan Anderson. Established 1999, Grassroots Member since 2012).

Nominees for retailer COMMUNITY & EVENTS

  • Pack & Paddle in Lafayette, Louisiana  “We don’t view building community and hosting events as a way to draw a crowd or even as a direct way to sell products, but rather a way that we can bring authenticity to everything that we sell and a way to build a tribe of Pack & Paddle superfans.” (Owners: Becky and John Williams. Established 1974, Grassroots Member since 2010)
  • Alpine Shop in St. Louis, Missouri  ““Alpine Shop's clinics and events program has been introducing customers to the great outdoors since the 1980s. But when it comes to a business's impact on it's community, there are stats and there are stories.” (Owners: Russell and Lisa Hollenbeck. Established 1973, Grassroots Member since 2002.)
  • Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis, Minnesota “We get people to get outdoors more by creating an outdoor community they can belong to. Many of our events are social gatherings with free beer, wine, other beverages, food and live music. Our annual attendance at these events at our store is an estimated 24,000 outdoor people.” (Owner: Rod Johnson. Established 1970, Grassroots Member since 2006.)

VIDEO: Founder of Midwest Mountaineering talks about his humble beginnings.

Nominees for retailer MERCHANDISING MAGIC

Denali in Guilford, Connecticut  “Our goal is to make people relax and to highlight the items we sell in the best way possible ...We want people to pick things up, hold them in their hands and try them on, and hope to transport our customers from the hectic, fast-paced northeast corridor to a place where poking around, taking your time and savoring the moment is important and encouraged.” (Owners: Chris Howe & Todd Raskin. Established 1994, Grassroots member since 2006).

  • The Toggery in Whitefish, Montana “We create our store vibe and customer experience by finding uncommon pieces around the Northwest to display our merchandise. We use antiques or relatively ordinary items but give new life through an alternative use … Our love for antiques and eclectic pieces adds personality to our products and sales floor.” (Owners: Trek & Rene Stephens. Established 1947, Grassroots Member since: 2014).
  • Outside Hilton Head in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina “We believe shopping should be a memorable experience. Our customers walk into an interesting retail environment where they can explore every corner and discover something new and different at every turn.” (Owner: Mike Overton. Established 1979, Grassroots Member since 1995).


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