St. Louis’ outdoor community exploded during the onset of the pandemic in 2020. People poured out of their homes onto local hiking and biking trails and into regional and state parks in search of activities to combat boredom and the emotions brought on by quarantining for weeks and even months.
As temperatures warm and winter transitions to spring in 2022, outdoor enthusiasts are again starting to head to the hills and rivers and planning their next adventures. And this year, six new outdoor retailers in and around St. Louis are more than happy to help them get ready.
Four of the stores opened in late 2021: Big Muddy Adventures Guide Shop in the Central West End, Field Theory Outdoor Mercantile in the historic Old Orchard neighborhood of Webster Groves, Gearhead Outfitters at Plaza Frontenac, and So iLL Showroom & Shop in the heart of The Hill. Bass Pro Shops and REI each have second locations scheduled to open in the area later this year. The new Bass Pro will be in Sunset Hills; the REI will be in Town & Country.
Let’s face it, St. Louis and Missouri aren’t exactly top-of-mind when it comes to the US’s most popular outdoor adventure destinations. The Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, and the Smoky Mountains all are more likely to be on someone’s Top 10 list than the Gateway to the West. But that may be changing.
“We don’t have the obvious outdoor assets like beaches or mountains,” said Greg Brumitt, who lives in Edwardsville, Illinois, and has spent the last 10 years advising national outdoor advocacy groups and communities like the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) and the City of Eureka, Missouri. “Like many Midwestern cities, though, there’s a rich outdoor community working just a bit under the mainstream radar. I’ve seen that growing steadily since moving back to the St. Louis area in 2013.
“We’re seeing more retailers, community groups, and local outdoor organizations introducing residents to outdoor pursuits and giving them their first taste of the lifestyle,” he continued, “and that is leading to them wanting more outdoor amenities. This is, of course, key to growing the outdoor culture here in St. Louis.”
Ian VanDam, owner of Field Theory, believes St. Louis’ emerging outdoor scene has experienced a huge shift in consumer interest, values, and lifestyle thanks to the pandemic and new stores encouraging people to get outdoors and be active.
“It’s a great time for us to open Field Theory, and for the other new stores opening, too,” he said. “People are getting involved, trying new things, or rediscovering favorite past experiences. We want to help grow the number of people interested in the outdoors. It’ll be even better as we help people see how much the Midwest has to offer outdoor enthusiasts.”
Building Community Over Competition
Six new outdoor retailers plus eight existing shops in the metro area — Alpine Shop in Kirkwood and Chesterfield, Bass Pro Shop in St. Charles, Cabela’s in Hazelwood, Outdoors Inc. in Clayton, REI in Brentwood, Take A Hike in St. Charles, and The North Face in Brentwood — creates competition, which in a market is generally good for consumers and the community.
“This gives the outdoor community a chance to experience a greater variety of products, services, and educational programs from multiple retailers,” said Brumitt.
Michael Thompson of Ballwin is excited for what’s to come with the new stores opening. Most weekends, you can find him and his wife, Colleen, hiking or mountain biking in Castlewood State Park or on other local trails. They also regularly plan vacations around hiking, mountain biking, and the outdoors.
“We love REI and the Alpine Shop. It seems like every time we’re planning our next adventure or vacation, we end up at both shops,” Thompson said. “Both shops are awesome, but they still don’t have everything for everybody, and more shops hopefully brings even more brands to try out.
“I see nothing but positive things for the outdoor community ahead,” he said. “Look at the bicycling community in St. Louis. It’s a vibrant community with a great selection of bike shops, products, services, and community organizations that work together to support and grow the culture. Hopefully, the new and established outdoor shops take a similar approach.”
Building community and helping more people get outside was one of the biggest reasons Big Muddy Adventures (BMA) opened its guide shop in the Central West End, says Alex Kuntzman, the retail manager and buyer for the store.
“Big Muddy Adventures, the Mississippi and Missouri rivers guide company, was founded with the goal of educating the community about the rivers — learning they can be safe to paddle on with a professional guide — and increasing access to the rivers,” said Kuntzman. “Traditionally, people in the city have had limited access to the outdoors and paddling on local lakes and rivers. We want the store to become a hub for the paddling and outdoor communities in the city, which is why we chose the Midtown location for the shop.”
“St. Louis is a very collaborative community,” said Field Theory’s VanDam. “We want to make the pie larger and invite more people into the outdoors lifestyle.”
Hannah Chancellor, marketing developer of So iLL, shares similar sentiments about building community.
“The more people get outside, no matter what the sport, the healthier and happier they become,” she said. “That’s what’s important. Field Theory and REI carry some of So iLL’s gear, which is cool, and people are getting to know our company. But it’s not about competing. It’s about helping each other grow and succeed.”
Meet the New Outdoor Retailers
Big Muddy Adventures Guide Shop
Address: 4662 Washington Ave., St. Louis, 63108
Phone: (314) 896-4262
St. Louis’ entertainment-heavy Central West End neighborhood isn’t the place you’d expect to find a paddling outfitter, but it’s the exact spot the company wanted to be in when it began planning for a shop.
“We’re nestled right in the community we want to serve in the city,” said Alex Kuntzman, the shop’s manager and buyer, who is also a Big Muddy Adventures’ guide.
Everything used on a guided river tour with Big Muddy Adventures is available at the shop. As a result, Kuntzman and staff can speak about the gear from experience and can help educate customers on the best fit for their needs and budget.
Field Theory Outdoor Mercantile
Address: 8153 Big Bend Blvd., St. Louis, 63119
Phone: (314) 942-2025
Field Theory opened in October 2021 and offers men’s outdoor apparel as well as gear from some of the world’s premium outdoor brands.
“There are lot of great brands, niche gear, and tools for camping, hiking, mountain sports, and travel that I think people will connect with and love,” said owner Ian VanDam. “I also wanted to take a risk and offer something new. That’s why you’ll see brands from Japan, Europe, and the US that you may be unfamiliar with, or maybe you discovered them on a trip out west or overseas.”
Address: Plaza Frontenac, 1701 S Lindbergh Blvd. #80, St. Louis, 63131
Phone: (314) 476-0041
While new to St. Louis, you may be familiar with Gearhead Outfitters, as this is the third Missouri location for the Arkansas-based chain. (It has 18 stores total, including four in the Chicago area.) The Plaza Frontenac location features Patagonia, The North Face, Yeti coolers, Vuori, and more. It even has a Normal Brand pop-up shop inside the store that features a large variety of the St. Louis-based company’s outdoor-inspired apparel and accessories.
So iLL Showroom & Shop
Address: 2008 Marconi St., St. Louis, 63110
Phone: (618) 420-9388
Based in the heart of The Hill neighborhood in St. Louis, So iLL has dedicated a portion of its headquarters as a showroom and boutique to showcase its climbing holds, gear, and lifestyle apparel.
“The idea for a showroom came about when we wanted to create a place where climbing gym route setters and buyers could check out our holds in person,” said Marketing Developer Hannah Chancellor. “We decided to also offer a handful of everything that’s available on our website inside the showroom: climbing shoes, jeans designed for climbing, T-shirts and hoodies, chalk and gear bags. Some things you truly need to try before buying them.
“My favorite is when someone comes in to try shoes,” she continued. “The fit is so important, and you may have to try on many shoes. You really get to know them during the process.”
* The second locations for Bass Pro Shops and REI are scheduled to open later this year and could not be reached for further details at press time.
Author: Nick Brennan is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.
Lead Image: Field Theory Outdoor Mercantile in Webster Groves, Missouri.