THE GREAT 8: Culture and Community
Standing out from the crowd in today’s hyper-competitive retail landscape is no easy feat. In the outdoor retail world, competition comes from all corners — big-box stores, the internet and, increasingly, brands themselves selling directly to consumers.
To stand out, stores need to be special. This year, our annual The Great 8 Retail list focuses on eight true specialists. These eight retailers are unique in their own way, but a common thread across the board includes what we call “The Three Cs” — community, culture and curation.
The people behind these shops are not only a part of their communities, they know how to create their own community within their stores and beyond. They don’t just live and breathe the outdoor culture, they help define it. And when it comes to curation, they are experts in selecting, merchandising and selling the right products to their customers. Retailers on this year’s Great 8 list range from young upstarts to grizzled veterans. They excel in a range of ways beyond traditional retail — some are big on events, others focus on education and some are super-tuned in to social media. They’ve all got special stories to tell.
The Mountaineer Culture
A Go-To Source for a Range of Outdoor Must-Haves in Upstate New York. By Bob McGee
Vinny McClelland is always on the move. Most of his outdoor adventures, from backcountry skiing and hiking to coaching high school soccer, take place in the Adirondacks’ hamlet of Keene Valley, where the Ausable River and John’s Brook pass by and Lake Placid, home of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games, is 19 miles to the southeast.
On this particular day, McClelland, known affectionately as “The Boss” by the eight full-time employees at The Mountaineer outdoor specialty shop where he manages the family business, is anxious and ready to go. In a matter of days, he leaves for a family hiking trip on Corsica, the mountainous island in the Mediterranean off France and birthplace of Napoleon.
Forty-three years ago, McClelland, who counts among his favorite quotes, “The best climber in the world is the one who’s having the most fun,” was busy trekking across “The Land of the Midnight Sun” on climbing, mountaineering, skiing and sailing adventures when he decided to return from Alaska to Keene Valley and help out his dad.
EACH OF THE STORE’S STAFF IS ACCOMPLISHED IN OUTDOOR ENDEAVORS, FROM BACKCOUNTRY SKIING TO CLIMBING.
In 1975, following his retirement from a career in advertising and education at the Greenwich (CT) Country Day School, George K. McClelland, a Yale graduate and a Marine fighter pilot in World War II, decided to retire to Keene Valley, which had been his summer home for years, and build The Mountaineer with close friends Sid and Kay Miller. Vinny immersed himself in his father’s project, cutting down the trees that were milled into lumber for the store and hammering nails once construction commenced.
Today, The Mountaineer is entrenched in the Adirondack community as the region’s go-to source for everything outdoor and was one of four Grassroots Outdoor Alliance nominees for “Retailer of the Year” this year. George passed away in October 2010 at the age of 91, and the McClelland son now leads the store’s staff, each of whom is accomplished in at least one outdoor recreational endeavor, ranging from backcountry skiing to climbing.
“We test everything we sell,” proclaims Vinny, who estimates The Mountaineer’s merchandise mix is approximately 70 percent hard goods and 30 percent soft goods. Patagonia is the banner’s largest brand and “has been incredibly generous to local (outdoor) causes,” proclaims Vinny. So too have other brands in The Mountaineer’s merchandise mix. Among them: Rab, the British outdoor apparel, sleeping bag and gear company, which provided jackets to the Keene Fire Department several years ago, and Ortovox, the maker of avalanche emergency equipment, Merino mountain wear and backpacks.
The Mountaineer’s business is year-round, with gear for backcountry skiing and ice climbing dominating the winter months and equipment for trail running and hiking most important in the summer. While the internet has yet to become a significant part of the store’s business, it has become increasingly important to The Mountaineer’s most loyal customers who leave the Adirondacks after the summer months. Orders are regularly placed from the Philadelphia, Boston and Syracuse areas.
The store takes its role in the Keene Valley community seriously through both volunteerism, benefit events such as the Adirondack International Mountaineering Festival and Adirondack Backcountry Ski Festival, and sponsorships of local school, church and public safety causes.
Additionally, the annual Great Adirondack Trail Run supports the Ausable and Boquet River Associations that provide educational opportunities for both children and adults to learn about the region’s sensitive river ecosystems. Patagonia, Salomon, Julbo, La Sportiva, Vasque, Darn Tough and Montrail donate prizes for the race winners.