REI, the specialty outdoors retailer, on Friday opened its first District location, and its largest on the East Coast, with a new flagship store at the Uline Arena in Northeast Washington.
The hope, company executives say, is to tap into the growing number of well-heeled residents with a penchant for hiking, skiing, camping and snowboarding. Here, a look at what you can find inside the store.
1. Nooks, crannies, trails and many, many couches
“When we first took this space, we were like, ‘Wow this is 50,000 square feet,’” recalled Elizabeth Dowd, vice president of retail experiences at REI. “ ‘How are we going to make it feel like anything but a giant football field?’ ”
The answer, she says, was separating the store into self-contained sections. There are multiple levels, built-in terraces and a mezzanine devoted to shoes. Sprinkled throughout are seating areas with sofas and pillows.
“As you go through the store, we wanted it to feel like you were walking outdoors: paths that wander, trails that go off, unexpected things around every corner,” Dowd said.
There are full-service bike and ski shops, as well as sections for camping, hiking and snowboarding. An outdoor electronics display includes dozens of solar-powered charging devices and waterproof speaker systems. And whenever possible — as in the hands-on“bike fit” area, outfitted with bicycle seats, pedals and shoes — customers can pick up or use the merchandise.
“Everything is in arm’s reach,” Dowd said. “We want you to be able to touch and feel every item.”
2. A guide to making beer-can stoves and other survival tips
Interspersed throughout are what store manager Becky Smith calls “funny little inspirational moments.”
One of those, a hand-sketched guide to making a stove with two empty aluminum cans, is displayed in the camping department. Every bathroom has a hand-drawn flowchart that serves as a guide to relieving yourself in the wild. (Example: “Are you a dog?” If yes: “Poop anywhere.”)
3. Posters from the Beatles’ first U.S. concert
Uline Arena was the site of the Beatles’ 1964 concert, and there is memorabilia throughout the store. There are also posters advertising other past performances, boxing matches and sporting events.
The store’s designers say it was surprisingly difficult to track down many of those pieces. They sifted through the private collection of Kip Lornell, a music professor at George Washington University, as well as the university’s archives, to find fliers and posters that they reproduced for the store.
There are also other nods to the location’s history: A wall in the store is made of wood from a basketball court once housed in the arena.
4. Waterproof spice racks and other items for outdoor cooking
The flagship store is REI’s first to have an entire section dedicated to outdoor cooking.
“Food is a big component of being outdoors,” Dowd said. “Cooking is the highlight of your day when you’re camping, and it’s all people want to talk about when they’re hiking or biking.”
The store has stocked everything from lightweight sporks ($1.95 apiece) to Dutch ovens ($69.95). There are also “virtually unbreakable” egg holders ($4.25), waterproof spice racks ($2.95) and flexible wine holders ($11.95).
5. A place to hang out
“Our goal is to settle in and become a key part of the community,” said Jerry Stritzke, REI’s chief executive.
To that end, the store has its own La Colombe coffee shop, an outdoor courtyard with tables and a fire pit, and a classroom where locals can take classes such as “Bike Maintenance Basics” and “Surviving a Zombie Apocalypse.”