REI Heads to Big Apple

NEW YORK — REI is in a New York state of mind.

The Kent, Wash.-based outdoor giant soft-opened its latest store, in New York’s Soho neighborhood, last week. The three-level, 35,000-sq.-ft. space in the Puck Building showcases the technical footwear, apparel and gear that has made the retailer famous.

Covering 17,000 square feet of selling space and employing 150 store associates, the store was designed to evoke the building’s original functions: Giant fly wheels, left over from the space’s days as a printing press, get prominent display in the subcellar level where footwear will live, and wood and nails taken from the rebuild are used as shelves and display pieces.

The store’s grand opening is scheduled for Dec. 2.

The debut marks not only the retailer’s first door in Manhattan but also its fourth tristate-area store to open in the past six months. “There is a huge market for authentic outdoor product in the tristate area,” said Tim Spangler, SVP of retail for REI.

According to Spangler, the company’s co-op membership list and sales from the website led them to see the market in the New York as underdeveloped for their shopper.

And that means maintaining REI’s core outdoor and gear focus, even in the heart of the city.

According to store manager Les Hatton, formerly of the retailer’s Santa Monica, Calif., shop, the new location will not reduce its percentage of tents, camp stoves and equipment to cater to a downtown crowd. “It’s almost exactly the same,” Hatton said. However, he added, the 500-SKU footwear mix, which accounts for roughly 20 percent of REI’s store sales, has been adjusted slightly, with more casual offerings and some color updates to “what we believed was relevant” for the Manhattan market, Spangler said.

While he declined to reveal sales projections for the site, Spangler did say the company is optimistic about the store’s potential — despite New York’s higher rents — and that it was designed for the high shopper volume required for urban stores.

Since 2009, when REI opened its first tristate store, in East Hanover, N.J., the company has added locations in Paramus, as well as in Norwalk, Conn., and Yonkers and Carle Place in New York. But the Soho store is the “keystone,” according to Anne Maleady, retail director of the tristate area for REI.

It’s a strategy vendors are applauding. “REI is a leader in outdoor retailing and a significant customer of Teva,” said Pete Worley, president of the brand, a division of Goleta, Calif.-based Deckers Outdoor Corp. “We’re excited to see REI going into Soho and expect that they’ll be very successful as more and more urban consumers seek outdoor adventure.”

Jim Zwiers, president of the Outdoor Group at Rockford, Mich.-based Wolverine World Wide Inc., agreed: “When we look out there, we see this concept of the outdoor athlete gaining in popularity and breadth of appeal, and cities are an important epicenter,” he said. “REI’s decision to move to a big-city focus with New York is a natural and savvy business move on their part.”

In New York, REI joins a flourishing outdoor retail network. EMS operates a store in Soho, as well as a location on the Upper West Side that opened this summer. Outdoor- and athletic-market stalwart Paragon Sports is a short walk uptown from Soho, and independent retailer Tent & Trails is farther downtown. Soho also is home to brand stores for Patagonia, The North Face and others.

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