Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Business

REI coming to Tampa brings back fond memories

It started more than 25 years ago with a smashed tent.
Outdoor retailer REI Co-op will open its first store on the west coast of Florida in 22,500 square feet at the base of the Midtown One office tower in early 2021. [Rendering courtesy Bromley Companies and REI]
Published Aug. 23

I first visited an REI store in the early 1990s. A tree limb had fallen on my tent the day before snapping two poles and slashing the fabric like some sort of arboreal Freddy Krueger.

Thankfully I wasn’t in it at the time. But the loss threatened to end my road trip through Washington, Idaho and Montana. The plan was to hike, camp, explore, climb a mountain, visit a national park, get lost, maybe see my first brown bear.

I had barely enough cash for food and gas. Paying for a new tent wasn’t in the plans. I walked into REI’s flagship location in Seattle hoping to score a deal.

For a young outdoor enthusiast the store was nirvana. Rack upon rack of jackets and sleeping bags, some of which could keep you warm in sub-zero temperatures. Canoes hung from the ceiling. Ropes, ice axes and other climbing paraphernalia filled an entire room. The gear was cool, but what stuck with me was how the store inspired adventure, even if I couldn’t afford a $200 kayak paddle. REI makes climbing a mountain or fording a river seem possible, even necessary.

A bearded salesman said hello. I described the state of my tent — and my bank account. I hadn’t showered in four days, which helped put an exclamation point on what I was willing to spend. He bypassed the expensive models and disappeared into a back room. He returned with a compact tent in a purple sack.

RELATED STORY: A recession can’t start when unemployment is so low? Yes it can.

He said a customer had returned it. It wasn’t fancy, and compared to today’s tents it weighed a ton. But at 40 percent off, the price was right.

The author bought the tent on the left from REI in the early 1990s. It's picture here in Lake Clark National Park & Preserve in 2007. [GRAHAM BRINK | Tampa Bay Times]

I walked out holding the sack, an $8 thermal shirt and a handful of freeze-dried meals. The chicken gumbo and beef stroganoff were gone in a couple weeks. The shirt survived daily use on a six-week kayaking trip and 15 years of other adventures. I finally got rid of the tent three years ago. It had visited a dozen states.

The memories flooded back Thursday, after REI announced plans to open a store on N. Dale Mabry Highway in early 2021. With 155 stores in 35 states, including two in Florida, the announcement isn’t the blockbuster it would have been 20 years ago. Even so, it’s good news for the burgeoning Midtown Tampa project near West Shore.

At 22,500 square feet, the Tampa store will be less than a quarter the size of the main Seattle location. It’s one of the reasons I’m not as worried about a national retail heavyweight swooping in and putting some of our eclectic local outdoor shops like Bill Jackson’s Shop for Adventure out of business. The shift to online shopping is more of an existential threat than another mid-sized store, even one that comes with a brand name like REI.

Twin Lakes in Lake Clark National Park & Preserve in Alaska. [GRAHAM BRINK | Tampa Bay Times]

The locals have already survived the arrival of Dick’s Sporting Goods and Bass Pro Shops. The successful stores have a niche that attracts a loyal following. Bill Jackson’s, for instance, has a 100,000-gallon indoor pool perfect for scuba lessons. The store also sells guns (REI doesn’t) and has a sloped rotating carpet where skiers can make turns.

REI remains a co-op, owned by its active members, but it felt more corporate when I walked into the flagship store in Seattle during a family vacation three weeks ago. Still, I loved the rush of activity, hundreds of people preparing for adventure.

I hope the new store captures that feeling.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Florida's unemployment rate was unchanged in October at 3.2 percent, according to numbers released Friday. LYNNE SLADKY  |  AP
    The latest numbers were released Friday morning.
  2. Apollo Global Management has offered $130 per share for Tech Data's stock in an acquisition worth $5.4 billion. If regulators shareholders approve, the home-grown company will remain based in Pinellas County, where it employs 2,000 of its 14,000 workers. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Private equity firms like Apollo create wealth for pension funds, financial institutions and individual investors by buying assets that typically are sold later at a profit.
  3. Some of Tampa Bay's largest companies are being sold or are up for sale. Times files and Bloomin' Brands
    Tech Data is just the latest in a growing list of public companies bought up by out-of-state firms.
  4. Hillsborough Community College solicited "non-binding letters of interest or intent” last month from developers interested in purchasing the Dr. Gwendolyn W. Stephenson District Administration Center on Davis Islands. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Developers have eyed the 3.7 acre waterfront parcel for years, but recent interest has prompted the college’s trustees to finally start the conversation.
  5. Tampa International Airport looking north. The Wall Street Journal ranked it the best midsize airport in America. [Times files]
    TPA took first place in the Wall Street Journal’s annual survey of U.S. airports.
  6. Tech Data's CEO Rich Hume (left) shares a moment with former CEO Bob Dutkowsky during a send off celebration for Dutkowsky earlier this year. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
    A private equity firm has agreed to buy Tech Data.
  7. Joseph Erickson, 53, looks out the window at the gulf-[front condo he thought he won at a foreclosure auction last year.t JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    "There have been serious allegations,'' Judge Keith Meyer said.
  8. Sam's Club fulfillment center manager Nick Barbieri explains to a shopper how the new Scan & Go shop works at 5135 S Dale Mabry Highway. SARA DINATALE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Shoppers in Tampa Bay can now skip the line and cash out alcohol on their own phones.
  9. Which cars hold their value best in Tampa Bay? Pictured is traffic in Tampa Bay in 2017. [Times file photo] ELLIOTT, LOREN  |  Elliott, Loren
    For the top spots, think big and rugged.
  10. A rendering of the planned Pinstripes bowling, bocce and bistro space that is planned to open at International Plaza alongside a Cinemex in spring 2021. Pinstripes
    In addition to upscale bowling and movies, there will also be bocce ball and a bistro.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement