The alarm bells in Midwest Mountaineering owner Rod Johnson's head started sounding in May when a usually dependable spring sales jump was instead a drop.

"We've lost money every month this year," Johnson said. "When the July financial statement came out a couple of weeks ago, I thought it was time to throw in the towel and unfortunately close our doors."

After 53 years in business, the iconic West Bank outdoor retailer will close in October. Johnson saw sales decline for the past seven years as shopping styles changed, save for the height of the pandemic, when people turned to the outdoors as a refuge.

Big-box retailers such as Scheels, REI and Dick's Sporting Goods — plus on-the-rise direct selling from manufacturers — continue to outpace traditional local retailers such as Midwest Mountaineering, Johnson said. His store also doesn't sell its items online, a popular option for customers who want products delivered to their door or just to do a quick in-store pick-up.

On top of that, expenses increased dramatically through the past few years.

"A lot of our customers are over 50. They were our customers back 20, 30, 40 years ago," Johnson said. "We've tried a lot to get younger people more into the outdoors. You're competing with busy schedules the younger people have. You're competing with screen time. The online sales is a huge thing."

Longtime customer Sean Foster said Midwest Mountaineering was more than just a shop.

"It was an institution in the Twin Cities where like-minded people could really find gear, find people, find events," said Foster, marketing manager of the Bouldering Project gym in Minneapolis. "I think it's going to be quite a loss for the Twin Cities."

Other successful founder-led retailers in the Twin Cities have undertaken visible transitions.

Bill Ribnick closed the landmark Ribnick Luxury Outerwear in the North Loop to retire in 2021 and sold the building. That same year, Larry Frattallone sold Frattallone's Ace Hardware & Garden locations to Tennessee's Central Network Retail Group. Colorado's Vail Resorts purchased Hoigaard's in St. Louis Park in 2013 and retained the family name.

A year and a half ago, Johnson publicly sought a general manager who might eventually take the helm of the business. He said that he found a strong manager in Carina Peterson, but that sales aren't strong enough to stay open. This even after trying to cut hours to save the business and manage wage increases, city-mandated but also necessary to retain employees during a workforce shortage, Johnson said.

Peterson started in January after being a longtime customer.

"I had been working with Rod on possibly changing the model or adapting to make changes, and he has a distinct style and method that has worked great in the past, and he wants to stay true to that method to the end," she said.

Johnson started his business downtown, and he said his store's current location near the University of Minnesota no longer attracts customers, although it sits in a highly visible corner spot off an Interstate 35 exit ramp on Cedar Avenue.

He notified his 40 employees Wednesday morning of the closing. When business was stronger 15 years ago, his staff totaled 100.

If he were younger, Johnson said, he would attempt to relocate near a suburban REI to create an outdoor shopping hub. At 74, he plans to market his four West Bank buildings that are home to Midwest Mountaineering to apartment developers.

A going-out-of-business sale starts Sept. 1 and runs through Oct. 8 as Midwest liquidates nearly $2 million of outdoor gear and apparel, discounted 30% to 75%.

Thrifty Outfitters, which sells closeouts and rep samples for half price, and also the Hiking Trails and BWCA Pint Night social gatherings will run there until the real estate sells. He also plans to continue to present the Banff Festival of Mountain Films World Tour at the U.

Meanwhile, Johnson is working on starting a nonprofit focused on people being nice to one another.

"It's something I can do," he said, "to do my part to make the world better."