Alpine closing, plans rebirth as new market

ahobbs@theolympian.comJanuary 31, 2014 

Alpine Experience is located at 408 Olympia Avenue NE.

ANDY HOBBS

Downtown Olympia outdoor retailer Alpine Experience has announced it will close after 18 years in business.

The doors will shut in about 60 days, following a storewide liquidation. Co-owner Joe Hyer plans to reinvent the business with a marketplace-style concept tentatively titled The Shop.

Alpine specializes in outdoor gear ranging from ski and hiking equipment to shoes, clothing and bike supplies. Business has steadily declined in the past few years, said Hyer, citing a number of factors such as the banking crisis and recession. The lack of snow this winter acted as a proverbial nail in Alpine’s coffin. Hyer said the store lost $200,000 in snow-related sales and rentals in the past two months.

Another factor is the shift in consumer habits. Companies such as North Face — Alpine’s top vendor — are selling more products directly to consumers online. In addition to local competition from REI, Hyer said the lack of surrounding retail development has hindered foot traffic.

For 14 years, the store has been located across from the Hands On Children’s Museum at 408 Olympia Ave. NE. The store has reduced staff from 57 employees in 2010 to 15 employees currently.

As for the new marketplace concept, Hyer is talking with potential investors. He already has one major investor on board with Ray LaForge, former owner of Olympic Outfitters.

In its future incarnation, Alpine will become The Shop, serving as a brick-and-mortar showroom for outdoor-related products, a cafe and “concept shops.” Included in the mix will be The Olympia Footwear Co. and The Bike Stand, a full-service bike shop. One idea is to cover overhead expenses for vendors in exchange for a share of revenue.

“The conventional wisdom of retail may need to be turned on its head,” said Hyer, who hopes to open The Shop in early April. “We’re trying to create a marketplace for the community.”

Hyer said he plans to continue providing full-time jobs, and Alpine has always paid higher than minimum wage. The goal is to retain all current employees and “carve out as many full-time jobs as we can,” Hyer said.

“We are ending Alpine, we hope, on a good note.”

Foot traffic is declining for brick-and-mortar retailers nationwide. Total retail foot traffic for November and December 2013 was tracked at 17.6 billion visits, compared with nearly 35 billion visits for the same period in 2010, according to a Jan. 16 article in The Wall Street Journal.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 ahobbs@theolympian.com

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