After 18 years, the trail is ending at Backpackers Supply.
Blame the recession, blame online sales and don’t forget the weather.
A final sale of all goods and fixtures began July 5 and will run through July 31, a Saturday.
“It’s a tough decision because I’ve had employees working for me as long as the store has been open,” owner Lock Miller said Wednesday. “It’s always a tough decision.”
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Miller said two other stores he owns, Marmot Mountain Works in Bellevue and Berkeley, Calif., will remain open.
“The store could not do enough volume,” he said. “It was declining in volume the last couple of years.”
The store sells all manner of equipment for hikers, climbers and paddle-sports enthusiasts from canoes and kayaks to parkas and detailed topographic maps, from personal flotation devices and cross-country skis to mosquito repellent and dehydrated organic tofu pasta.
Customer Evelyn Street was in Wednesday to buy a wool cap and a book outlining regional day hikes.
“I’m sorry to see them close,” she said. “It’s not like one of those huge stores. I’m a believer in supporting your community.”
She said she has enjoyed shopping at Backpackers Supply because of the service the employees provided. “They don’t hover,” she said. “The people here know the area. They can suggest hikes. It’s the feeling of family I get.”
Employees have hiked the trails and climbed the mountains. “Everybody here – we all go do stuff. It’s always been that way,” said sales associate Barry Walstead, himself a rock climber and back-country skier.
“People come down here, mine us for information, then buy it from the big boxes,” he said.
That, or they go online.
“I don’t know how you’re going to compete with that,” Walstead said. “I always go to small shops. I’m willing to pay a little more for customer service. When you order it online, that’s somebody’s job (at risk).”
Store manager Andrea Wagner has been with Backpackers Supply at 5206 South Tacoma Way for nine years.
It will close, she said, “for financial reasons, the recession, websites, online companies. Customers are using us as a fitting room. We’ll spend an hour with them, and they’ll go online and buy it for a few dollars less. We’re not the only small-business owners going through this.”
Wagner said the staff of 10 people, including her, will be laid off.
“It’s sad, and I feel sad for Tacoma,” she said. “It’s one of those things where they don’t know what they’ve got until it’s gone.”
This week, most items are discounted by 30 percent, with the boats tagged at a discount of 25 percent. Every Monday, the price will go down another 10 percent or 5 percent for kayaks, canoes and other paddle craft.
“The kayaks are pretty much at cost,” Wagner said.
Looking for some rental skis? They’re yours for $16, while the supply lasts. Helmets? Were $64.99; now $24.98. Boots? Were $259.95; now $89.98.
Standing as if in a thick forest, some cross-country ski poles come in at $2.98.
“People are spending less money,” said Lock Miller. “The weather in the past couple of years – the snow didn’t come at the right time. That’s an issue.”
Sales volumes declined. Customers chased savings.
“One would think there is room for a specialty outdoor store between Olympia and downtown Seattle, but people just were not purchasing to the degree we needed,” he said.
“It’s not a decision I took lightly at all. At some point, you just have to make a choice.”