Sign of the times: Two longtime outdoor specialty shops close doors after weak winter; REI, Moosejaw open new stores

North Cove Outfitters in Connecticut and Marmot Mountain Works in California closing doors. Moosejaw opening new stores in Massachusetts and Colorado, REI in Texas and Florida.

In a way, this story writes itself. This past month, SNEWS learned of two venerable specialty outdoor shops planning to close their doors, while — albeit in separate locations — two of the industry’s larger and more Internet-savvy retailers announced several new store openings.

It’s a snapshot of the changing outdoor retail landscape across the nation from the East to West Coast, on the heels of a weak winter season and increasing online competition.

In Old Saybrook, Conn., North Cove Outfitters plans to shutter in the next few weeks after nearly 24 years in business. The shop’s co-owner Norman Cavallaro told SNEWS that this season’s lack of winter weather, plus a flood in 2010 led to a series of financial setbacks for the store.

“This year, it’s been 60 degrees since November,” Cavallaro told SNEWS. “We’re getting a big snowstorm here in early March, but that’s not going to salvage the season. We were in the middle of growing and got hit with some things we couldn’t control.”

Cavallaro said it is not the business’ intent to file for bankruptcy — its goal is to sell off as much inventory in the remaining weeks to pay off its debt. “Bankruptcy is very expensive and will ultimately result in less money for everyone,” he said.

Cavallaro and Ed Carney opened North Cove Outfitters in 1988. More than two decades later, the shop earned respect as one of the nation’s top outdoor stores, named “Overall Retailer of the Year” by SNEWS and Backpacker.

“We won a lot of awards for product knowledge and customer service, but we were well aware that online sales were becoming a growing component in the industry,” Cavallaro said. North Cove didn’t sell online, but had it survived, it would have likely added an online business, he said.

The store employed 40 to 45 full-time and part-time staff. A few have found jobs elsewhere, but Cavallaro said he wants to help more. The toughest part of the closing was breaking the news to his staff, he said.

“We’re all out of jobs,” Cavallaro said. “Anyone who is considering hiring employees in the industry should contact us.”

Across the country, Marmot Mountain Works recently announced plans to close up its in Berkeley, Calif. shop by the end of March.

After 35 years in business, the store was hit by the dichotomy of one of the best winters last season followed by one of the worst this season, store manager Tom Purcell told SNEWS.

The closing will not affect the Marmot Mountain Works store in Bellevue, Wash., which remains open. The stores began as affiliated with the Marmot brand, but, in the early 1990s, split as independent, unaffiliated stores.

Marmot Mountain Works in Berkeley did sell online, Purcell said, but those sales began to drop in the past two to three years as the industry’s Internet business began to consolidate among a couple of larger players.

“The Internet has really affected us,” Purcell said. “You can find almost any item on sale somewhere, and the bigger online retailers are putting a wider range of items on sale earlier.”

One of the nation’s fast-growing online retailers, meanwhile, is opening more physical locations with a business model increasingly known as click-and-mortar. Moosejaw opened its eighth store in Natick, Mass. earlier in March, plans to open its ninth in Boulder, Colo. in May and more within the next 36 months.

The new stores will feature a more tech-savvy and Internet-connected environment.

“Armed with WiFi, iPads and mobile point-of-sale systems, the staff will not be tethered to a large checkout counter but instead will engage customers throughout the entire store, pulling-up online product reviews, checking inventory at other Moosejaw locations and completing transactions on the spot,” company officials said in a release.

Also on the national outdoor retail front, REI announced March 6 it would open two new stores — one in San Antonio, Texas by fall 2012, and the other in Jacksonville, Fla. by spring 2013. REI, which currently operates 122 stores in 29 states, also plans to open new stores in Cincinnati, Ohio, Woodbridge, Va. and Medford, Ore. this fall, along with a new store in Indianapolis, Ind. on March 16.

--David Clucas



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