REI store opens its doors in OKC

Published Tuesday, November 12, 2019
by Janice Francis-Smith

The highly anticipated grand opening of Recreational Equipment Inc.’s Oklahoma City location is this weekend, but in many ways the new store at 1731 Belle Isle Blvd. is already established as an engaged member of the local community.

REI Oklahoma City is the first in the state for the 81-year-old, Seattle-based co-op. Oklahoma is home to about 50,000 of REI Co-op’s 18 million members, with 4,500 of those members living in the Oklahoma City metro area, making the city a great location for REI’s 159th store, said store manager Adam Dozier.

One indication that REI Oklahoma City was built to be not just another link in a national chain but a store tailored to suit the wants and needs of Oklahoma’s outdoor enthusiasts is the huge, colorful mural of southwestern Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains behind the cash registers. Dozier, who recently relocated to Oklahoma after opening a handful of stores with REI in California, pointed out the mural moments before opening the doors for a soft opening on Friday.

“Have you ever been out there?” Dozier, already adept at serving as an ambassador to Oklahoma’s outdoor attractions, asked regarding the Wichita Mountains. “It’s beautiful. It’s only about an hour-and-a-half away. I highly recommend going and checking that out – it’s a great place to hike, to give you a little bit of elevation.”

Friends of the Wichitas, a nonprofit supporting the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, held an event at the store prior to its opening, wherein 100% of the $5 price for stainless steel cups benefited Friends of the Wichitas. REI has partnered with Oklahoma City-based Stonecloud Brewing Co. to create a limited-release brew, Extra Sandwich Citra Pale Ale, with 10% of that beer’s sales going to benefit Friends of the Wichitas.

“Last year, REI donated 70% of profits back to our employees and communities that we’re in,” said Dozier. “Oklahoma needs a company like REI here.” Up until now, the closest store was in Dallas.

“I was talking to a gentleman last night that said he takes a regular five-hour drive to Dallas – two and a half hours in one direction – just to go to an REI, and he’s been a member since the ‘70s,” said Dozier. Though members are able to order products through the company’s website, REI’s brick-and-mortar stores are designed to provide a level of personal service that can’t be replicated online, he said.

“You’ll notice a lot of our stuff is out of the packaging, so you can get hands on to see how things are going to function, you can see how things are going to fit,” said Dozier. Customers can check the sizing for clothing as well as for tents, backpacks and more. The luggage area has cubby holes sized to match the overhead bins of several major airlines, allowing customers to see if the baggage of their choosing will work for an upcoming trip. The shoe area features a small artificial hill so customers can try out hiking boots under trail-like conditions.

“Fit is a huge thing here at REI,” said Dozier. “We’re not just trying to sell gear to people. We’re trying to make sure that we get them the right type of gear so they can get outside and enjoy being outdoors and not have to worry about something not fitting them correctly or hurting them. You get the wrong size backpack, it can ruin a trip. You get a bike that doesn’t fit you well, it could be unsafe.”

In a matter of 17 days, the company’s crew had transformed the 23,000-square-foot empty space in the Belle Isle Station shopping center, owned and operated by Kite Realty Group, into a fully stocked and functioning store with 57 employees.

A display at the front of the store was filled with maps and books about Oklahoma wildlife, native plants and hiking trails, near a wall covered in photos of local store employees enjoying the outdoors.

A chalkboard posted near a classroom at the back of the store bore a handwritten message welcoming the Friends of the Wichitas and a local Girl Scout troop in anticipation of those groups’ upcoming visits. Local scout troops can come in and work with REI employees to make sure the kids are properly outfitted and geared up for hiking and camping trips, said Dozier.

The classroom will be able to seat about 25 people and will be available for the store’s partner organizations to use free of charge, said Dozier. REI will soon be using the room to host classes on things like winter camping or bicycle maintenance; when the weather allows, more classes will be held outdoors, he said.

The store also includes a fully functioning bike shop with a master technician on duty and up to 100 bicycles on the sales floor ready for a test ride at any time, said Dozier.

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