Boulder, Colo., has long been seen as a hub for outdoor business, and the latest surge of brands and retailers opening brick-and-mortar locations here is further proof that both the town’s outdoor cred and the industry’s allure never wavered during Covid-19. If anything, they’ve grown stronger.
In the last few weeks, Black Diamond Equipment, Stio, and Backcountry have opened stores on Boulder’s famous Pearl Street in hopes of tapping into the city’s natural alignment with the outdoors.
Those brands joined such outdoor stalwarts as Patagonia, The North Face, Fjallraven, Montbell, Norrona, Volcom, and others in downtown Boulder, most of which also call Pearl Street home.
Plenty of other brands have doors elsewhere in town, and the city—along with other towns in Boulder County like Louisville and even nearby Broomfield—is home to the global or North America headquarters for several companies.
Why Boulder and why now? The city is an obvious draw for outdoor enthusiasts, and it’s become even more attractive during Covid as more people look for quick escapes nearby, whether that means scaling routes at the Flatirons, backpacking through Rocky Mountain National Park, or just strolling along Boulder Creek.
To document this recent retail trend, we spoke with brand leaders about why these companies chose Boulder, and what expectations they have for the new retail ventures.
Black Diamond Equipment
People are used to their favorite store closing and becoming a Starbucks, but the outdoor industry is on such a roll right now that one brand—Black Diamond Equipment—found a way to reverse that retail trend.
On July 10, Black Diamond opened the doors to its retail store at 1427 Pearl St., in the site of a former Starbucks. This locale marks Black Diamond’s sixth retail location following Big Sky, Mont.; Salt Lake City, Millcreek, and Park City, Utah; and Castle Rock, Colo.
Black Diamond’s leadership team—including President John Walbrecht and Devin Gillette, director of retail—said the brand expects to continue adding retail locations as part of its omni-channel approach, but that Boulder was the logical next opening based on its proximity to the mountains and its population of BD super fans and newcomers alike.
“Black Diamond’s retail strategy is to focus on opening in key mountain towns, like Boulder, so that we can engage with these rapidly growing mountain communities,” Walbrecht told OBJ. “Boulder is a perfect fit with its rich climbing heritage, vibrant outdoor community, and its pulse on outdoor trends. Black Diamond is a key player in these outdoor markets, making Boulder an ideal match for the brand. It is exciting for us to integrate with Colorado’s expanding Front Range population and build on our roots with this passionate, engaged, and iconic outdoor community which BD already serves.”
Stio, the Jackson Hole, Wyo.-based mountain lifestyle brand, recently opened its doors at 1505 Pearl St. The Boulder location is the brand’s fourth Mountain Studio retail store, after its Jackson and Teton Village stores in Wyoming and Park City store in Utah.
“We are super stoked to open our next Mountain Studio in one of America’s most vibrant outdoor communities,” said Steve Sullivan, Stio’s founder and CEO. “The combination of an engaged and active local population, energetic college community, and outstanding year-round recreational activities make it an ideal match for us. Having grown up in Colorado, and lived in Boulder for a short time, it has always had a warm place in my heart. I still have a lot of friends down there and know it to be a wonderful community. We are really looking forward to being part of it.”
Though traditionally an e-tailer, Backcountry opened a brick-and-mortar store at 1537 Pearl St., its second store opening this year along with a new door in Park City, Utah. The retailer already had one store adjacent to its fulfillment center in Salt Lake City.
When Backcountry CEO Melanie Cox spoke with OBJ earlier this year for a deeper dive on the retailer’s brick-and-mortar plans, she said, “I think that omni-channel more and more is the most viable approach to retail. You need to meet customers where they want to be met.”
And when asked about the potential for backlash from the retail communities in Park City and Boulder, Cox said, “We’re not just opening up a store. We want to contribute to the communities [we’re moving into]. We’re going to be supporting local nonprofits and establishing partnerships that will give back to the community. Our stores will work hard to reflect the DNA of the communities we’ve selected.”
Don’t forget Denver
Just 30 miles southeast of Boulder along U.S. 36 sits Denver. Not surprisingly, the Mile High City also has seen a rapid rise in outdoor brands moving into town. Last month, for example, Thule, the Swedish rack and accessories brand, opened a brand store in Denver in conjunction with longtime retail partner Rack Attack.
“We’re confident that the Denver store is going to be a great success,” Thule’s new Americas president, Hilary Hartley, told OBJ in a recent Q&A.
Added Thule’s Chris Ritchie, “For us, connecting the Thule brand to consumers that like to explore in the outdoors and live the active lifestyle with their families is important, so choosing a city like Denver was an easy decision for us. The community here in Denver and suburbs throughout the area is full of adventure seekers, athletes and people who love the outdoors, so we couldn’t be more excited to share our award-winning products with them.”
Meanwhile, Portland, Ore.-based boot maker Danner is expanding its footprint with the brand’s seventh retail store and first outside its home turf of the Pacific Northwest.
“As a brand, we thrive outside and craft high-quality footwear ready to tackle Colorado’s diverse terrain, making the Mile High City the perfect location for the newest Danner store,” the company told OBJ in our recent report on the opening.
Both Thule and Danner set up shop at Denver’s Basecamp at Market Station, which has targeted outdoor brands as its chief tenants. It’s in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood between 16th and 17th streets.