Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Downtown Wilderness — Outdoor gear retailer has new owners, moves into town

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Given Brian Richards’ love of the outdoors, he’s a little disappointed that he and his wife’s business venture is keeping him cooped up inside so much lately. But at least it means he’s helping others get out and enjoy the outdoors.

Richards and his wife, Nikiesha, purchased outdoor gear retailer Wilderness Way in November and recently moved the business to the old Trustworthy Hardware location in downtown Soldotna.

Richards is from Utah originally, came up to Alaska for a summer four years ago and liked it so much he talked his wife into moving up permanently. He worked for an outdoor retailer in Utah before the move, and started working at Wilderness Way three years ago.

“Other than that I’m just an avid user of everything in here. I like spending as much time outside as I can,” he said. Although, with the move, “I can’t remember the last day off I’ve had.”

The process of buying the business, the new building and getting things moved has been going on for about six months, he said. The Richards bought the store from Walter Ward.

“He’s been ready to retire and move on to other things. I just approached him about it,” Richards said. “I thought it would be fun. I enjoy working here so much I thought it’d be fun to take over and run it.”

He and Nikiesha looked at other locations in their search for a new site for the store, but nothing came close to the old Trustworthy location on the Sterling Highway, which is in the same complex as Safeway and the Peninsula Center Mall. The building is tri-level, with an entryway area, an upstairs and downstairs. The space is 9,000 square feet in all. The downstairs will be used for storage for now, with the 5,000 square feet of the entry level and upstairs used for retail space. That’s as much as the old Wilderness Way location had in the entire building, including the back storage area.

“This should be a good location right in the middle of town here, a little more accessible to people,” he said. “We looked at few other places but this one I think really fits us well and it’s the right size and a good deal, really. I think it’s the right fit for it.”

It took two weeks to have a new roof put on and for the wood floors to be refinished, and packing up and moving all the merchandise took about five days. The store reopened in its new home last week, although the staff — the Richards and Diane Penland — are still unpacking and getting things set up.

The extra space means the Richards will expand the store’s inventory, with more variety in the products they already carry, and some new items.

“More hunting stuff — packs, accessories, that type of thing. We’ve carried high-end fly-fishing gear for a number of years now. We’ll probably expand that a bit, too, get back into that side of things,” Richards said.

On Saturday, Lacie Ferrar, Bleu Schachinger and Kyle McMillan, all of Soldotna, were in Wilderness Way looking over the expanded selection of North Face apparel. Ferrar said she liked that the store is now in town.

“No one wants to drive out to Sterling,” she said. “This is probably the most people I’ve ever seen in Wilderness Way at one time.”

Schachinger said she was glad the old Trustworthy Building had an occupant again. She remembered the days of the “big buckets of nails that spun around. It’s been lonely,” she said.

Richards said he’s excited for the new venture, especially moving the business in town, despite concerns over the nation’s economic crises.

“It’s an existing business. We’ve got a pretty well-established local clientele for Wilderness Way. We’ve seen sales have been pretty steady, in line with the last few years, anyway. I hope to see it stay that way. We’ll still provide the same services and products,” he said.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and closed Sundays. The store will have a grand opening sale Saturday.

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