REI blows doors off with Bend, Ore., opening

REI swung open the doors on its fifth store in Oregon, welcoming shoppers to its 28,000-square-foot Bend location with a grand opening on Nov. 18 that was grander than many thought possible. REI told SNEWS® that from Nov. 18-20, approximately 10,000 folks entered its doors. That's 16 percent of the total community population of approximately 63,000.

REI swung open the doors on its fifth store in Oregon, welcoming shoppers to its 28,000-square-foot Bend location with a grand opening on Nov. 18 that was grander than many thought possible. REI told SNEWS® that from Nov. 18-20, approximately 10,000 folks entered its doors. That's 16 percent of the total community population of approximately 63,000.

REI's "soft" opening (a private affair with registers open and running for friends and family) on Nov. 16 was also huge SNEWS® was told -- $48,000 into the till in about three hours. The "Community Reception" on the night of Nov. 17 was also packed with 600 people.

The opening day festivities featured a ski and snowboard halfpipe demo, free breakfast, free swag and drawings for merchandise and trips. On day one alone, REI reported 5,000 folks wandered through the store. The event was so big, that tour buses were called in to handle shuttle traffic from outlying parking lots at the Old Mill District.

Our eyes on the scene reported that lines at the registers were a city block long all day on Friday, Saturday and a half-block long on Sunday. On all three days, there were long lines waiting to get in even before the store's doors opened. On Friday, there were over 500 people in line waiting to get in; on Saturday, over 300 people waiting in line to get in; and on Sunday, REI had over 200 people waiting to get in.

REI won a lot of local hearts and minds, SNEWS® was told by locals, by saving the old brick mill building which is one of Bend's landmarks that had been abandoned for years. It once housed the generators that powered the Brooks-Scanlon. In 1914, the Brooks-Scanlon mill and the Shevlin-Hixon mill just across the river were the two largest timber mills in the world generating 500,000 board feet of lumber a day. Parts of the original boilers and their smokestacks were saved as part of the restoration and are part of the store.
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Bend is typically a community wary of larger corporate stores, of which REI fits the mold. However, REI played its cards well and correctly and quickly made numerous local friends with grants to local environmental and civic organizations. Saving the Old Mill Powerhouse was, well, icing on the cake. It'll be interesting to see if the REI opening results in any retail shakeout in the local market. Though several local retailers were openly full of bluster and chest-pounding when asked for quotes for a local newspaper story on the REI opening, we've heard from several insiders familiar with the community retail scene that a number of the retailers are looking over their shoulders and running scared. Several folks told us that some local outdoor retailer registers were noticeably quiet both during REI's grand opening and during the weekend after. Not a good sign. Local favorite Pine Mountain Sports will likely weather any retail impact as it has a very strong and loyal hardcore following. Pandora's Backpack will do fine too, since the store recently switched from being a specialty outdoor store to becoming a Patagonia store. Hard to go wrong there and it has a superb downtown location. As for the rest of the outdoor stores, and there are several, it will be a matter of tightening up the ship in terms of providing superb customer service, excellent merchandising, and focused product selection that features brands REI doesn't carry. We can say this with certainty. There is absolutely no reason at all for a specialty outdoor store to go out of business just because an REI store moves into town. Granted, the arrival of an REI in town can shake up the market, but in that case, it becomes a case of Darwinian economics. The fittest stores will survive, the weaker ones will adapt or die.




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