New Hampshire’s iconic adventure hub of North Conway now serves as a lab for a different type of REI.
Rent skis or a mountain bike, or sign up for a guided climbing trip. North Conway’s REI emphasizes “experiences” as much as gear sales.
It opened last week at 1498 White Mountain Highway on the south end of town. At about 25,000 square feet, it’s compact compared to flagship REIs. But the store will have a “flagship-sized” fleet of gear for customers to rent.
“It’s a new concept format for REI,” said store manager Shannon Hanley, who moved from REI’s Seattle flagship to oversee the launch of the store. “The location is in a place where our members play versus where they live and shop.”
New REI Retail Experience in New Hampshire
To be sure, about 53,000 people in New Hampshire are REI members. And locals will no doubt take advantage of the store.
But REI built the North Conway format to enable adventure for people visiting the town, which is a famous hub for mountain and wilderness trips to all compass points.
You can nab a full mountaineering kit to climb Mount Washington at this REI. Snowshoes, AT ski gear, and splitboards are in its rental stock.
Beyond the gear, the store offers trips and clinics ranging from fall hikes in the White Mountains to a cliff-rappelling adventure on a sheer face “with one of the most iconic views in New England as your backdrop.”
REI’s adventure travel arm offers five unique trips in the area, including guided ice climbing and hut-to-hut hiking in the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
Interview With REI Store Manager Shannon Hanley
Fifteen years ago, Shannon Hanley started her outdoor career in North Conway working for the Appalachian Mountain Club. She transitioned into outdoor retail and eventually started working for REI in 2014. Hanley is back now in North Conway after a tenure at the company’s Seattle flagship.
GearJunkie: This is the first REI store in New Hampshire. What struck a chord about North Conway? And, ultimately, what was the final choice to launch the store here?
Hanley: This is an iconic outdoor location in the Northeast. So, if you live in the New England area, you’re probably going to recreate in the White Mountains. And if you don’t live here, you may travel here to take advantage of places like Cathedral Ledge, Tuckerman’s Ravine, and, obviously, Mount Washington.
REI is about helping people get outside. This store is unique in that it’s situated right where you play. It’s a great spot for us to be and to connect people to the outdoors. The range of activities you can do here is extensive; you can go mountain biking, rock climbing, snowshoeing — you have everything at your disposal.
Can you describe what makes this store unique relative to other REIs around the country?
For starters, I would say our location. REI stores are usually in a more commercial area, but here, the White Mountain foothills are the backdrop. While all the REI stores help get people outside through gear and experiences, and many offer rentals, the North Conway store will have an extensive rental selection, a vast demo fleet, and in- and out-of-store program offerings.
We want to be that one-stop shop for members and guests. Maybe you’re going to Echo Lake for lunch, and you forgot sunscreen, or you, unfortunately, have something go wrong with your bike, and you need to take advantage of our full-service repair shop.
We truly want to be that launching pad for activities in the area. This location will rent a lot of hardgoods — bikes, standup paddleboards, skis, snowshoes, tents and sleeping bags, and camping equipment.
The Experiences team is going to be working right out of the store and will offer a range of classes from introduction to mountain biking to rock climbing. There is a full gamut of activities, and we’ll keep dynamically responding to what people are doing here. It’s super exciting. I actually did the Intro to Mountain Biking class, and I learned a ton.
We also have workshops that are focused more on community building. For example, Views and Brews in the White Mountains is a great way to engage with the local community, whether you’re new to an activity or just want to connect with other folks that enjoy that activity.
Tell us about this new store. Walk us through it.
The store is just under 25,000 square feet with a staff count of roughly 35. When you come in the door, you’ll walk right into our rentals and demo area, where we showcase this unique opportunity within the store.
Along with this, there will be a community space that offers the opportunity to gather and interact with this more modernized rental experience. Of course, our customers will also notice our many standard gear offerings such as the camping department and, to your left as you walk in, the clothing and footwear departments.
Then my favorite part — you’ll see someone in a green vest who is incredibly approachable, friendly, and welcoming regardless of a customer’s experience in the outdoors.
There is potential to displace other, smaller retail shops in the area. How do you think locals will respond to the store opening, and how have you worked with the community to ensure there are no hard feelings?
Ultimately, our purpose as a co-op is to help folks get outside. One of our missions is to awaken a lifelong love of the outdoors, and we do that by offering gear and experiences to get people outside.
I think it’s amazing that there are so many folks that are helping others get outside in this area. So it’s more collaborative than competitive — and celebrating the fact that there’s an industry that’s strong up here.
In terms of working with the community, our goal in every community we serve is to be a good partner. Here in the Mount Washington Valley, we are engaging with our community partners in numerous ways. For example, we recently invested $20,000 in the Mount Washington Valley Trails Association to help construct the North Conway Recreation Path.
And, as part of our onboarding experience for the new team, we had a day of stewardship and trail work on the Crawford Path. We’ll continue to look for opportunities to do stuff like that.
What’s your favorite part of the store?
The rental counter space. I love the community nature of it. We have gear tables and chairs and spots for folks just to hang out and chat, whether it’s families or individuals. It’s really a cool spot.
What are some of your outdoor passions?
Going on hikes with my husband and snowshoeing in the winter. There’s so much to do in the White Mountains. The Mount Washington Valley has so many cool things to offer, and so I became hooked on the views and just the nature of being outside and the peacefulness that comes with that.
Outdoor enthusiasts can check out a brand-new activity or take advantage of the equipment available via the extensive rental area and demo programs. This REI store is poised to be the template for future stores at outdoor destinations.
This article is sponsored by REI.