This past month has been a bit of a doozy when it comes to big business versus the mom-and-pop outdoor stores of the world. First, news dropped about Backcountry.com suing small businesses across the country to protect their trademarked name. Then, at least locally in California, people were bummed to learn about the closure of Adventure 16, the friendly kind of indie gear shop that easily provokes nostalgia. If we ever needed a reminder of the struggles independently owned outdoor shops and small brands face in today’s market, recent news has provided plenty.
Both the Backcountry.com news and the A16 closure reminded us of how much we often treasure our local businesses. Especially a store like A16, that can function as a kind of “third place” where we feel at home, but that isn’t home, or work. Another welcoming spot where we can talk outdoors and gear with fellow dirtbags and feel like we’re with our people.
These next few weeks our streets will be flooded with UPS and FedEx trucks, delivering Christmas gifts and purchases taking advantage of holiday and year-end sales, a reminder of the crushing dominance of online retailers. Amazon, Backcountry.com, REI, Moosejaw, and many more online behemoths, offering products at a deep discount that places like A16 can’t necessarily compete with. Or even if they can, the convenience of buying by click is like catnip to us internet addicts.
Meanwhile, the indie businesses are offering apple cider, hot chocolate, warm conversation, a place to hang your jacket. Their products often cost more, but in return, they offer an experience online or big box stores can’t. Atmosphere. Face-to-face contact with people who get you. A knowledge of where your gear came from. Local tips. In some cases, friendship.
As indie bookstores and music stores have faded from the culture, there’s an undeniable loss of character left behind, whether those shops were beacons of culture in small towns, or neighborhood gathering spots in big cities. They pull you in.
So too, however, do 40 percent off sales on outdoor gear that’s already expensive. Sure, you could walk into your LBS and pick up a Yakima bike rack for $500, or you could take advantage of a holiday sale at a big box store to pay $300 for the same thing. It’s not an easy calculus to make sometimes. Well, maybe if you’re saving $200 it is. But you get the idea.
As an incentive for conversation, we’re giving away a copy of Adventure Journal to one commenter chosen at random. You can choose any issue we have in stock, and if you’re already a subscriber we can extend your sub by an issue, send you an issue you don’t have, or give one to a friend. Just include your email when you post your comment so we can get in touch.
Photo: Joanna Nix