Final week I learn concerning the closing of Ascent Open air, a mom-and-pop gear retailer in Seattle that had been in enterprise for over 20 years and had simply opened a 3rd location. I’d been there as soon as, years in the past whereas on the town scoping the College of Washington on a grad college go to. Stopped in (it could have been referred to as “Second Ascent” again then) poked across the gear, purchased a light-weight rain shell—yeah, went to Seattle with out one—and loved the expertise. Workers was pleasant, an excellent vibe among the many individuals within the retailer. I preferred it instantly.
Studying concerning the closure of Ascent Open air bummed me out, regardless that I don’t stay anyplace close to Seattle. It jogged my memory of my favourite hometown gear store, one which, like Ascent Open air, fell sufferer to altering shopping for habits of the out of doors group and closed its doorways ceaselessly.
I miss feeling at residence in a darkish and mysterious gear store, turning when the bells clanged on the door to see who was coming in, perhaps a well-recognized face, perhaps a crusty old-timer about to spin up a yarn about the place they’d simply been.
It was on a busy thoroughfare in San Luis Obispo, California, occupying a squat, rectangular constructing with a brick facade within the entrance, yellow plaster partitions, and a inexperienced awning with gold lettering that learn: Granite Stairway. The form of constructing that regarded prefer it had as soon as been a ho-hum insurance coverage workplace. Bland. Forgettable. Apart from the illustration of a hiker on the aspect, striding confidently up a mountain someplace. Plus, the identify Granite Stairway is a poetic sort of call-to-action. Lengthy earlier than I ever shopped there I’d drive previous that constructing and have a look at the stenciled hiker with a little bit of longing; the shop beckoned, regardless of the darkish home windows you couldn’t see by means of. What was happening in there, I’d marvel.
Lastly, one summer season whereas in school, I received a seasonal job working for the Nationwide Park Service in Sequoia/Kings Canyon Nationwide Park. I knew I wanted some severe recommendation about real-deal boots and equipment that may maintain me snug and protected over months within the backcountry. Plus, I had a small gear stipend. So, after years of being vaguely intimidated, I walked to the storefront, grabbed the door deal with and pulled.
Bells charmingly clacked and rung towards the glass.
A person who was the spitting picture of the late Steve Irwin regarded up from behind a glass counter stuffed with pocketknives and multitools. He put down the copy of the native small-town newspaper he was studying (again when that was only a regular a part of life and never a captivating relic) and smiled. Behind him had been cubbyholes full of rolled-up topo maps. Twisted braids of colourful climbing ropes adorned the partitions and ceiling. Immediately, I felt at residence.
Steve (not his actual identify) and I chatted about the place I used to be going that summer season, what I anticipated to come across, and what I needed to see and do. He walked me by means of the strengths and weaknesses of the boots, packs, and sleeping baggage on supply, bypassing the costliest items that, frankly, I’d have bought had he informed me to, so enthralled was I by his experience and his apparent love of excellent gear, or, fairly, the experiences good gear would assist facilitate.
Ultimately, I left with a pair of Asolo FSN GTX boots (they lasted me virtually 15 years; good job, Steve!), a Sierra Designs artificial sleeping bag (presumably nonetheless within the desert in Mexico someplace, an extended story), and a Lowe Alpine backpack (this served me properly for properly over a decade, backpacking the Sierra, and journeys by means of Europe, till I offered it on Craigslist to a younger man about to take his first backpacking journey a pair years in the past).
Steve tossed in a pair of wool socks free of charge, confirmed me easy methods to stuff my bag within the pack and not using a stuff sack to avoid wasting house, and despatched me on my means, returning to his newspaper. He appeared each bit the knowledgable craftsman an excellent automobile mechanic is. Happy with his work.
As soon as the summer season ended, I returned typically to the store, to peruse new gear I couldn’t afford, and snoop on outdated timers telling tales about Sierra and Trinity Alps backpacking missions, in addition to climbers gearing as much as tackle the close by crags that had been rising more and more common. I’d purchase a Nalgene bottle generally, a baselayer often, topo maps, and plenty of freeze-dried meals. It felt like my native surf store. A spot to hold, even after I wasn’t within the temper or the monetary place (I used to be in school) to purchase a complete lot.
I moved to San Francisco after undergrad and tried to search out my Granite Stairway right here. Ultimately, I settled on a behemoth retailer referred to as The Sports activities Basement that has an identical scruffy vibe, but it surely’s too large to really feel intimate. Lately, after I’m headed out to the backcountry, SB, as I name it, is a must-stop for gas, meals, last-minute bug repellant, paper topo maps. However I don’t know anyone who works there, and, frankly, it’s clear most individuals on the ground don’t have the information and professionalism of Steve.
On a visit again residence to SLO just a few years after I had moved, I used to be dismayed to see that Granite Stairway had closed. SLO nonetheless to this present day has a small gear retailer, The Mountain Air, lengthy might it stay (superb that a city of 40,00zero individuals four hours from the mountains supported two small out of doors gear outlets) Nevertheless it wasn’t MY retailer the best way Granite Stairway was.
Nostalgia? Oh hell sure. I may very well be remembering most of this incorrect. The previous is murky, particularly tinged with the golden fog of nice recollections. However after I learn concerning the closure of Ascent Open air, I couldn’t assist however really feel a pang of disappointment for Granite Stairway and Steve wash over me. I too, purchase many issues on-line, out of doors gear included. I’m a proud member of REI. I’ve eaten lustily from the tree of low cost forbidden fruit. And I do know sufficient about out of doors gear now to probably not want the experience of a Steve anymore. Heck I’d even be any person’s on-line Steve.
However, man, I actually miss that retailer. I miss that third place of mine. I miss feeling at residence in a darkish and mysterious gear store, turning when the bells clanged on the door to see who was coming in, perhaps a well-recognized face, perhaps a crusty old-timer about to spin up a yarn about the place they’d simply been. Haven’t discovered that but anyplace else.