Matt Perry and Riverside Outfitters are doubling down on downtown.
The river rafting company, which also rents bikes, boats, and offers camps has long been based near the Stratford Hills Shopping Center off Forest Hill Avenue. Two years ago the outfit opened an outpost on Brown’s Island, renting mountain bikes, kayaks and standup paddleboards for people to use on the nearby sections of trail and in Tredegar Pool between Brown’s Island and Belle Isle.
But the Brown’s Island shop was only open Friday-Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This coming spring, says Perry, Riverside’s co-owner, he’ll staff the outpost seven days a week — 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. — during the same traditional summer season (Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend).
“You don’t want people to stop and think, ‘Hmmm, it’s Wednesday, are they open down there?'” he said. “You lose a fair percentage of people that way.”
Downtown, Perry added, “you aren’t really dealing with a captive audience.” People have options for how to use their time. The goal is “to become a more certain entertain option down there.”
Riverside Outfitters first worked out the deal with Venture Richmond (which operates Browns Island) to open the outpost in the spring of 2011. Perry said the idea was to give it two seasons and see what the demand was. This past summer the high water forced them to shut down for six weeks — June through mid-July.
But when they opened back up after the water went down, “we were kind of getting some momentum, awareness was building back up again,” Perry said. “The last three weekends in August were the best we’d ever seen by a long shot. We had multiple hours where all the boats were out.”
SUPs and kayaks are $15 an hour, and mountain bikes are $10. Those numbers won’t change this year, he said.
“It was a two-summer long test, and we were ready to make the decision of do we pack up or roll out and we decided to roll out.”
Perry added: “If you’re going to be the best river city in the country, you have to have something like this.”