You had to think when Blue Ridge Mountain Sports vacated the marketplace in the spring of 2012 that Richmond wouldn’t go very long with REI as its only outdoor retailer. I mean this is Outside Magazine’s Best River Town, the home of America’s best urban whitewater and singletrack and biggest outdoors sports and music festival (Riverrock).
Well, it’s taken two years, but this spring and summer two separate retailers are moving into the area to fill the void left by Blue Ridge Mountain Sports. Next month, Walkabout Outfitter will open its fifth Virginia location when it opens the doors at the former Pirouzan Oriental Rugs store in Carytown. And in mid-August, GreenLife Adventure Sports, based in the Ghent neighborhood in Norfolk, will open its second location.
I’d heard about GreenLife’s move a few weeks ago and met up with owner Tommy Dunn — a former Eagle Scout and Appalachian Trail through-hiker — at Crossroads coffee shop recently to get the scoop.
GreenLife isn’t even two years old, but Dunn said their growth has been such that he started thinking about the Richmond market over a year ago.
“Richmond has always been on the radar screen,” he said. “It’s obviously one of the best outdoor cities in the country…But Blue Ridge always had their locations, so it was covered. Once they left it was like, ‘Okay the opportunity is there,’ but we were still really young. And we still are, but we had grown in numbers and experience, and the timing was right.”
Then last winter a number of the vendors that GreenLife works with suggested a move to Richmond. It’s an underserved market, they told him, someone is going to open up there.
The Richmond GreenLife store will be out at 9691 West Broad Street, very close to one of those old Blue Ridge Mountain Sports Locations in what is now a Hallmark store. Dunn said he looked everywhere — from Midlothian, to downtown, to Carytown — before settling out there.
Of course, the first question most people ask him when he mentions the location is, “What about REI?” The outdoor retail behemoth is just a mile or two out West Broad in Short Pump. Dunn is well aware of the competitive challenge REI poses, but he said GreenLife aims to do things differently.
“We’re local. We’re your neighbors and friends,” he said. “We differentiate ourselves through our knowledge and our customer service and our products. At the local outfitter is where you find the guys and girls who are out in the woods, trails, rivers, and mountains using the stuff.”
He added that we have “a ton of brands that (REI) can’t carry or they only carry a smattering of. Patagonia is the gleaming example. They can only carry a little bit of Patagonia.”
Dunn said that, just like at their Norfolk store, they plan to offer free classes and lead trips.
“We really want to foster a huge community aspect to our store….At our Norfolk store, we have a weekly yoga class; we have a weekly climb night, all of which are free. We’re very involved with the local boy scouts, local non-profits.”
GreenLife won’t open until mid-August, Dunn said, but they will have a booth at Dominion Riverrock where they hope to begin the process of introducing the store to outdoors-minded Richmonders.