In 1935, two years after construction concluded of the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park and two years before completion of the Appalachian Trail, Seattle-based outdoors enthusiasts Lloyd and Mary Anderson decided they needed to find a better way to buy gear to outfit their adventures.
In 1938, the couple, along with 21 like-minded lovers of forests and peaks, formed the co-op that became Recreational Equipment Inc. and then, simply, REI.
Now, some 80 years later, REI is coming to the Flathead Valley.
The Kalispell store will be REI’s third location in Montana for the specialty outdoor retailer and co-op. Nationally, it will be REI’s 154th store.
A grand opening is planned Nov. 9-11 at the store, 2270 U.S. 93 N. in Spring Prairie Commons, with events and door prizes on Friday and Saturday that weekend.
Molly Mikita manages the new store, which is about 20,000 square feet. The footprint is slightly smaller than REI’s Missoula and Bozeman stores, but the sales floor space in all three stores is roughly the same, the company said.
The Kalispell store will employ about 53 people, a tally that includes both full-time and part-time workers, Mikita said.
She worked for REI in Dillon, Colorado, before moving to manage the Kalispell store.
Unlike regional outdoors-oriented competitors that include, but are not limited to, Sportsman & Ski Haus, Cabela’s and Snappy Sport Senter, the local REI store will not sell fishing gear or firearms.
Part of what makes REI unique is its co-op approach, Mikita said.
Anyone can shop at REI, member or not. Co-op members pay $20 for a lifetime membership and receive a portion of the cooperative’s profits each year based on a percentage of their eligible purchases. In addition, REI said it supports hundreds of nonprofits across the country that “build trails, connect people with nature and sustain vital outdoor resources like our parks, waterways, mountains and deserts.”
In April 2018, REI reported it had notched a record $2.62 billion in sales in 2017. The company said recently it has more than 17 million members.
Mikita said the Kalispell store will feature “a very cool backpacking wall” and a “full-scale bike and ski shop.” She said the store has a community room to host events and classes.
REI has made an effort to display throughout the shop locally relevant art and “found objects,” Mikita said.
For more information about the grand opening, go to www.rei.com/stores/kalispell.html
Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 758-4407.