Wilderness House

12:13 a.m. on November 9, 2007 (EST)
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As I was reading the posts about Alpine Designs, I wondered about a Boston store that had a good name way back called "Wilderness House", I believe. It was across the street from the original EMS store. Someone told me it was still around. Any thoughts about it?

9:44 a.m. on November 9, 2007 (EST)
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I've not heard of Wilderness House before. However, not long ago I discovered that Moor and Mountain, another Massachusetts company, is still around. I remember their catalogs from the 1970's. http://www.moor-mountain.com/ At one point Moor and Mountain had their own line of gear, I recall product reviews in Backpacker which is how I learned of the company.

Not too many stand alone stores have hung in there over the years. In Minneapolis, Midwest Mountaineering is still going strong, http://www.midwestmtn.com/index.php.

1:08 p.m. on November 9, 2007 (EST)
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sabino,
The original EMS was (and still is) in North Conway, NH. I think you are referring to the first Boston store, which was IIRC the second or 3rd EMS. At the time it opened, I was a professor at BU, with my office about a block away on Commonwealth. I believe Wilderness House closed a number of years ago. Like many shops, they couldn't really compete with big stores like EMS.

I remember Moor & Mountain, as well. Good shop. But that's all 30+ years ago. Good to see they are still in business out in Andover. I think their survival is because they are a fair distance from the Big City.

It seems like that is often key to the survival of the small shops - they are on the spot in the place where the backpacking/climbing/skiing/whitewater is, so people have a place to get those forgotten or last-minute items. Doesn't always help, though. In 2000, there were two climbing shops in Talkeetna, both of which were closed by 2002. Another shop opened later, and was still there in 2005 when Barb and I passed through on our way to the slopes of Denali. You would think that with Talkeetna being the takeoff point for climbers in the Alaska Range, you could support a shop carrying the gear. But even in Anchorage, there is only one good climbing and backpacking shop (Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking). The Anchorage REI (diagonally across from AMH on Northern Lights) carries essentially zero climbing gear of any kind, much less the technical gear and clothing you need for climbing in the Chugach and Alaska Ranges.

2:42 p.m. on November 9, 2007 (EST)
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It was called Bob Smith’s Wilderness House until about a year or so ago http://www.wildernesshouseboston.com/about.html
and it was sold to the Joe Jones chain
of New Hampshire http://www.joejonessports.com/
and is now called Joe Jones Wilderness House
http://www.wildernesshouseboston.com/
site is still under construction

2:51 p.m. on November 9, 2007 (EST)
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REI in Anchorage sells zero climbing gear? What do they sell, surfboards?

9:10 p.m. on November 9, 2007 (EST)
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Alan asked

Quote:

REI in Anchorage sells zero climbing gear? What do they sell, surfboards?

Actually, yes (for riding the daily wave in Turnagain Arm). No, I am not joking. Search the web for "Turnagain Arm".

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8_O6p3m8eM

http://members.tripod.com/~bore_encyclopedia/AlaskaPics.html

http://www.paddlermagazine.com/issues/2003_3/article_225.shtml

Also kayaks (sea kayaks, no white water types that I saw), and some backpacking gear. Mostly (like most REIs these days) clothing that makes you look like a rugged, but fashionable, outdoorsperson.

Not quite zero climbing gear, but none of the stuff you would expect for a location that is so close to the Chugach and Denali, and pretty sparse in rock gear.

3:25 a.m. on November 10, 2007 (EST)
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I may have told this story before, but it fits this discussion somewhat. When the Folsom REI (East of Sacramento) opened up a few years ago, I was up there visiting so I went in to look around and wound up buying a Voile Mini shovel.

The clerk didn't ask me the usual "Are you a member,question?" but just asked for my member number. I asked her why not, since they always ask that and she said, "Oh, I could tell you're a member." I realized I had an REI rainjacket on and said, "Oh it must be the jacket." To which she replied, "No, you're buying a member item, the non-members just buy clothes."

REI has morphed over the years from a climbing and hiking store that also sold clothes to a chain of clothing stores that also sells outdoor gear. I think the real money for them is the clothes. I doubt they could be in just the gear business and be as big as they are. The two story REIs I have been in have the whole top floor devoted to clothes and shoes.

Even A 16, a local small chain here in CA has at least half its floor space for clothes, shoes and boots. Just like a bike shop that can't survive on just racing bikes, the hard core gear shops are disappearing, except for perhaps online stores with less overhead.

2:08 a.m. on November 16, 2007 (EST)
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It's a widely known fact that softgoods, i.e. clothing, have a substantially higher retail mark-up than hardgoods.

REI gets lots of grief, possibly for good reason, about its apparently mindless expansion, but in its defense, the Web site and stores, obviously, have an extremely wide selection of hardgoods.

I remember Moor & Mountain and Wilderness House. Nice retailers, though by definition, it's unfortunately a nickle and dime business.

MY REI number is 143,215 and my MEC number is 1.7 million. At least with REI, these numbers are, or formerly, were, sequential. The late Lloyd Anderson, REI founder, for example, is REI member # 1. I much prefer MEC house branded stuff to REI house brand. But obviously MEC, overall, doesn't have merchandise selection that is available from REI, and MEC prices for US customers are suffering severely from the dollar's alarming decline.


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3:57 a.m. on November 16, 2007 (EST)
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I retired from the largest retailer in Canada, except MEC, of outdoor gear in 2001 and can tell you that THE MONEY, especially in the Vancouver, BC region, is in the clothing and non-technical footwear. I would bet that 90% of the trendy brands gear such as NF and Arcteryx, NEVER see a mountain.

The situation is that SERIOUS gear users do not buy most of their big ticket items from REI/MEC or other bigbox stores; they buy from specialty gear makers,, often online. The big guys don't handle Mystery Ranch or McHale or Kifaru packs, Western Mountaineering or ID bags or Hilleberg and ID tents and the smaller shops usually, not always, have more knowledgable staff.

I prefer to deal directly with gear makers, such as MR and with small dealers for my ID and Hille. gear; almost all my gear comes from about four sources.

2:14 a.m. on November 19, 2007 (EST)
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Yes I do agree that to obtain reliable advise from a retail clerks is very often impossible. This may even be somewhat more true at the "big box" stores than elsewhere.

However, I've gotten very expert fly fishing advise at the big box "Gander Mountain" stores in the U.S., and to judge an individual clerk simply by his employer, might obviously be unfair and unwise.

Some of the most memorably dumb advise I've ever heard was from a young clerk at a small and very expensive shop.

I have an MEC "Brio" pack that I acquired via mail order only several years ago, when there was still a substantial US Dollar advantage over Canadian "Looney," .

At the time, MEC was making cosmetic changes to Brio, at so I got it on close-out, and my cost for a fairly good product, was under $70 U.S., including outrageous international shipping charges.

Of course the pack isn't as good as certain premium brands at three times the price. Yet I'm pretty satisfied, and it fits me quite well. I've never thought for a moment of buying an REI pack, because their designs are truly inferior (and the prices aren't as attractive.)

Because of its value, general design, and fit, I'd probably buy another Brio pack, if I needed something like that, even at current exchange rates.

I might disagree that where you happen to get stuff is a critical matter. It's more a question of what you get, and for how much.

For staples like camping gas, and even premium items, I often shop at the "big-box" Campmoor, simpley because it's 20 miles away, is sometimes the cheapest, and I must in any event, pass by there to drive to any decent places in my immediate area.

 

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9:56 a.m. on November 19, 2007 (EST)
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I can understand the kayak gear. I can't imagine that the Anchorage REI doesn't have a boatload of Denali specific gear as I imagined the store filled with it to the rafters.

There is no doubt the money in retail is in clothing. In addition clothing is easier to turn over and the appeal is to a broader range of customers. By comparison not many customers are shopping for down bags versus a new shirt or jacket.

What really blows me away on clothing, especially insulated outerwear, are the prices for those items at mall department stores. I rarely get to a mall, but when I'm there I'll pop through a store such as Macy's and see what they are selling, I guess that's a holdover from the "dress for success days." Designer down jackets cost more than higher end gear, say a Marmot for example, and the quality is junk. Styles aside, the materials and down quality do not justify the price.

4:27 p.m. on November 19, 2007 (EST)
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Wilderness House (Bob Smith's Wilderness House) is still right across the street form EMS on Commonwealth Ave. . They carry backcountry (and downhill) skis, kayaks, both river and surf, windsurfers, lots of camping gear, like Western Mountaineering bags, Event pads, climbing gear... winter plastic boots...etc. They do not have a website, but do have a small catalog. Moor and Mt. is also alive and well. They are a good source for Golite gear, and Marmot, and organizing kayak trips. They are located in North Andover, MA.

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