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The lights were on but the doors were still closed to shoppers at REI's new and expanded store in the Grant Creek Town Plaza on North Reserve Street.

Every few minutes on Sunday, some hopeful customer would pull at the locked door and press a face to the store's glass front to see what was up - and when the doors would open.

The answer? On Tuesday, at 10 a.m.

Yet on Sunday, there was still much to do and employees were trying to get it done.

Display walls were being rolled into place, clothing was being hung up, parts were getting pulled out of plastic bags, and bikes were getting hooked to overhead racks.

While taking stock of the progress, Sean Kissane took a deep breath.

"It's a big deal," said Kissane, the store's general manager. "We are very excited about this opportunity, and we are really excited about this store."

There won't be any climbing walls, or test ponds to take a canoe for paddle - or any extreme features like the Seattle mothership - but the new REI will have 14,000 square feet of space dedicated to the sales floor: to product and shoppers, Kissane said.

Customers can expect expanded selections at the new store, and the addition of a bike shop within the store that converts into a ski and snowboard shop for the winter, a large children's gear section and a boat department.


The new Missoula store has been 10 years in the planning, and a few months in the making, since REI announced the expansion in January.

The outdoor retailer offers quality items at fair prices, Kissane said, and it considers its average customer to be someone who is new to an activity or sport. Because of that, REI is a good fit for communities like Missoula because rather than taking customers away from existing sporting good stores, it helps to get more people excited about outdoor pursuits, and therefore, expand the overall market.

"When we open a store, there's always concern from the community that we will be taking business away from others, but generally we see the market share increase in shops that are well run and know what they are doing," Kissane said. "We don't really view other outdoor retailers as competition; our competition is television. A recent study shows that the average American child watches TV, or the Internet, 40 to 60 hours a week.

"Our biggest challenge is getting young people excited about the outdoors."


Longtime local retailers in the same business have watched other sporting good stores come and go. REI's new expanded footprint does create some concern about a saturated market, but at the end of the day, it's a good addition to the community, said Mark Anderson, operations manager at Bob Ward's in Missoula.

"REI is a strong brand and there is a message that goes with that," Anderson said. "I welcome the addition and it will make us work better. We have to be very aware of what they are doing and how they are doing it."

Confidence comes from knowing your customers and from sinking your business roots into the community for more than 90 years, Anderson said.

Missoula has changed tremendously in the past nine decades, and Bob Ward's has been a part of that evolution.

"We have always hung our hat on being in the Montana community and in the Montana landscape all this time, and we have a pretty good feel for what our friends, family and neighbors want and need, and we work hard to marry those needs and values with our selection."

Todd Frank, owner of The Trailhead, echoed Anderson's perspective.

"We've been around for 36 years in this community," Frank said. "We know what people want and we know what works well here on Montana rivers and mountains. We test it, we rent, we use it, we live here - so we know what works and we know what doesn't work, and we sell the gear that works."

Although REI isn't a new player on the scene, its expanded presence means everyone in the business will continue to improve customer service and product offerings.

"REI's strength is their size - the sheer volume of merchandise they are able to purchase, and their weakness is their size," Frank said. "Being much smaller, we can move quickly and make adjustments to be on top of trends and new products.

"I think it's good for Missoula to have more choices where they want to do business, and we feel like we are a good choice to do business."

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