Shop owner Jamie Lipman reflects on women in retail industry

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Jamie Lipman and her family gear shop, Tent & Trails, are woven as tightly into the fabric of New York City as the pleated rope they sell to their climbing customers. Started more than 50 years ago by Lipman’s father as a weapons and war surplus supply outlet, the store morphed into an outdoor retailer in the ‘70s, when big outdoor brands like The North Face and Sierra Designs started to make a name for themselves.

Lipman grew up as her father’s right-hand woman at the New York City-based Tent & Trails and took over the lead position in the ‘90s while her father was slowing down and transitioning out of the role. Now Lipman runs the store with her sister, Heather.

Since taking over, she’s had more than one storm to weather, but the grittiness for which New Yorkers are famous runs deep through Lipman’s veins.

JamieLipman

Case in point: Lipman can look out the store’s front window and see where the World Trade Center used to stand, roughly 100 yards away. Amidst the chaos of 9/11, she held strong, closing the store for a mere 10 weeks while her block was used as a staging area for Army procedures.

“When we did reopen, customers were celebrating, they were so happy,” she said. “Some of my competition sent us flowers and cards.”

Ten years later, Tent & Trails had its world rocked by the Occupy Wall Street movement. This time however, the store fared far better. After all, people looking to camp out—regardless of whether that’s out in the woods or along the paved streets of a bustling financial district—need tents. “Customers are customers. I don’t care about their politics unless they start shouting it in my store,” Lipman said. “They were a little hippyish, and some of them could have used a bath, but they were very appreciative of us because we were welcoming to them.”

Lipman’s dedication to customers is certainly why Tent & Trails has remained a fixture in the city. Regardless of whether a shopper is looking for instruction on basic knife skills, tips on hiking with a four-legged friend (the store has workshops on both), or simply needs a Mylar emergency blanket—“I get people who want to wrap themselves in it to keep the government from hearing their thoughts. It’s the modern equivalent of aluminum foil,” Lipman said—the store’s staff is ready to help.

Reflecting on more than four decades in the business, Lipman said she’s seen the industry evolve to become more accepting of women. She noted that even Tent & Trails has expanded its women’s department, in part thanks to high-performing products that brands like Mammut and Arc’teryx now make in a women’s cut.

While she’d like to see brands make women’s products in bigger sizes—“even if the designers might be women, they don’t make allowances for older women who might be a little thicker around the hips and chest”—overall she thinks we’re moving in a positive direction.

Not that there’s room for complacency. According to Lipman, we still have a long way to go. “It’s getting better, much better," she said. "I used to be practically the only woman I ever saw [at a trade show] … but I’d like to see more women.”

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