For anyone climbing in the Shawangunk Mountains in New York, stopping at Rock and Snow in New Paltz isn't an option—it's mandatory. As one of the oldest specialty climbing gear shops in the country, only minutes from The Gunks, it's an important piece of climbing history.
The shop has evolved from its humble beginnings—a small selection of pitons, some carabiners, and a few packs and down jackets—into an East Coast gear institution with a wide selection of rock and ice climbing gear as well as equipment for hiking, running, and cross-country skiing.
"It's the coolest and most complete climbing gear shop in the Mid-Atlantic states by far,” said Al Diamond, a principal at All Mountain Group, a New England sales rep agency. “These guys have always picked brands before they became well known and built great stories about them. They have the largest selection of climbing gear anywhere and the staff can give you the best and latest info on the gear and climbs to do in the Shawangunks."
Just this year, Andrew Zalewski, a longtime climber from New Paltz, took over as owner and will bring the store into its 50th year in the new decade.
Rock and Snow was selected by SNEWS editors as the 12th featured store for the new #CoolShop Awards. Read about the other 11 outstanding shops written about in 2019.
The store's legendary legacy
In 1965, climbing trailblazer Dick Williams identified the need for a climbing gear store in downtown New Paltz. There was only one other nearby shop—in New York City—that handled climbing equipment. So he started plotting.
With the help of numerous fellow climbers scraping together just enough funds, his plan came to fruition on April 10, 1970, when they opened the doors of Rock and Snow. Legendary climbers passed through, including John Stannard, father of clean climbing, and started an all-nut ascent log—an archive of climbs only achieved with the smaller form of protection.
In 1990, a fire destroyed the store, which used to be housed in an old auto parts store. Williams partnered with then-store manager Rich Gottlieb to operate out of a temporary location and eventually open a new, larger building in 1993.
Zalewski joined the Rock and Snow staff in 1999, when he was a college student and joined the management team after he finished school. Gottlieb had taken over as owner by then and Zalewski said he approached him to discuss partnership and a succession plan. "He was open to the idea," Zalewski said. "We started working towards that."
Together, they opened the store's annex in 2013 to sell consignment outdoor gear and clothing. It's become a major part of the business.
Gottlieb's time for retirement came this year. And now Zalewski is keeping the dream alive as it enters its fifth decade.
"I’m proud to be part of the legacy that is Rock and Snow," Zalewski said.
Cultivating the climbing community
The explosion of climbing has worked in Rock and Snow's favor. While other outdoor pursuits are part of Rock and Snow, climbing is at the store's core—and Zalewski's core.
"I grew up in the area and my very first day climbing was the day our town’s climbing gym opened," Zalewski said. "They were giving out free lessons. I always had the bug since I learned about rock climbing. That’s the first love."
In November 2018, Rock and Snow held its first-ever community bouldering competition called the Gunks Boulder Bop at Lake Minnewaska, an area known for its world-class routes.
"It's more of a celebration than a chance to show off," Zalewski said.
The event has been wildly successful. This past November, they nearly sold out. Zalewski said they plan on hosting another competition in 2020 to bring together the climbing and Rock and Snow community.
"The climbing scene was certainly different in the 1970s," Zalewski said. "I’m happy that we’ve been able to weather the storm of e-commerce and Amazon, and see climbing continue to grow and see more and more people enjoy it."