DULUTH – The racks are already brimming with used gear for camping, skiing and all sorts of outdoor fun.
There are boots, jackets, fleece pullovers, snowshoes, skis, backpacks, camping mattresses, stoves and sleeping bags, to name a few items, all for a fraction of the price of new.
In a city where a sizable portion of the population prides itself on a passion for the outdoors and environmental sustainability, launching the Great Lakes Gear Exchange consignment store seemed like a no-brainer to owners Emily Richey and Brooke Wetmore.
After hosting a few successful pop-up shops over the past year, the two friends opened a permanent storefront in downtown Duluth last month. They hope their business will keep gear out of landfills and also open outdoors opportunities for people who can’t afford new gear or don’t want to invest in it.
“Our mission first and foremost is to just increase access to outdoor gear,” Richey said, as she and Wetmore greeted a steady stream of customers on a recent weekday.
The two hope the store will be a place for people to come and learn from others about how and where to try a sport, or how to plan camping, canoeing or backpacking trips or other outings.
Housed in a store that once sold medical uniforms on E. 4th Street, the shop is painted bright colors with industrial-style light fixtures and signs made from sawed trees.
Some customers carried armloads of gear into the store to consign, others browsed the racks and shelves for good deals.
“This is great!” Joe Schiavone said as he wandered, looking for nothing in particular. He wound up buying a Columbia brand ski jacket for $28, something he said he’ll use on cross-country trails. “I couldn’t pass it up. It’s a great deal.”
Richey and Wetmore, friends and outdoors enthusiasts, said they got the idea for a gear exchange store after visiting similar places in other states. Richey came across such stores in Colorado and Vermont, she said. And she knew of a couple in the Twin Cities.
She wondered why Duluth didn’t have one.
She and Wetmore tested the market with six pop-up events at the Duluth Folk School and found enthusiasm for the idea. Now that they are renting a storefront, they have both quit their jobs in the nonprofit world to tend to the gear business full time.
“Mission-driven based business is really important to us,” Richey explained.
The store has restrictions on some gear — they don’t consign safety equipment such as helmets and climbing harnesses that can’t be verified to be in safe working order. Vouchers are issued for ski binding safety inspections at a nearby Ski Hut store.
Consignors earn 60 to 80% of the sale price, depending on an item’s value. They get an additional 10% if they take the proceeds in store credit.
Devon Puffer brought in a pair of Nordic ski boots she hoped to sell after she realized they weren’t a good fit. Richey and Wetmore helped her decide to mark them for sale for $90.
While she was there, Puffer browsed the racks.
On her way out the door, she stopped at the cashier’s counter with a black mountain bike jersey in hand for $8.
“I thought I might as well look around and see what I could find,” Puffer said. “I love thrifting and reusing.”
The store will hold its grand opening this week with events each evening Wednesday through Saturday.