Although the year was petering out with only two days to go, business had no sign of slowing when I stopped in to Little Mountain Outdoor Gear to chat with owners Mike and Marie Wrede. Shoppers were trying on tons of clothes, taking advantage of the last sale prices for the year.
Little Mountain is a unique addition to Nakusp’s main drag, one that opened up in 2009, and at its present in July 2010. Like its owners, the store is dedicated to helping people get out and enjoy the great outdoors. You can find snowshoes, running shoes, hockey accessories, helmets, sleeping bags, jackets and a whole lot more that can help you get out and stay out comfortably in nature.
On first sight, a visitor can tell this store cares about the quality of what they carry. The design and layout contribute to a sense of pride in the items they stock, and there is a feeling that the products are carefully chosen with an eye to both fashion and durability.
When I reach the back of the store, I’m greeted by the Wredes. Mike and Marie Wrede are both go-getters. They radiate health and a can-do attitude, a natural match for a sporting goods store.
In 2008 they moved from the hectic pace of the west coast where they sold their plant nursery, to the “still fast, but different” pace of Nakusp. Like many people who love to live here, they took on whatever work they could find.
“You know, I don’t know anyone in Nakusp who doesn’t multi-job,” Marie reflected.
Their first project was the Lakeview Guesthouse Bed and Breakfast which they ran out of their home.
“Now, it’s a bed with no breakfast,” joked Mike. Something had to give when they opened the store, so they changed it to a full suite so guests can cook their own breakfast. Still, some guests have missed Mike’s morning cheffing.
“Apparently I make a really great omelette,” he quipped.
Bringing their respective backgrounds in retail and accounting, Mike and Marie jumped on a chance to open their store when a vacancy came up on Broadway.
“We saw a need and we went for it,” Marie said.
It was a whirlwind decision that pushed them to get everything ready in time. “We opened in less than two months,” she added, “I wouldn’t recommend it.”
But the stress and effort has paid off. The store is a natural extension of the pair’s love of outdoor activities, a passion they are very happy to share.
“We do a lot of educating people who want to get into sports like hiking,” said Marie, who sees teaching as a necessary part of what the store does, and encourages it. “Sometimes people come in and they’re not ready to buy, but they can always ask.”
When they opened the store, the Wredes weren’t sure what to expect, and tended toward more technical gear for mountain hiking and camping. They soon found that a broader approach was needed, and responded to what people wanted.
“We try our best to accommodate people’s requests,” Marie said, “We do a lot of special orders and people appreciate it.”
“Within reason,” added Mike, who noted it’s too much to stock hockey sticks or cross-country skis because of the huge variety of brands out there.
“We carry the basics,” he said, “waxes, ski poles, hockey accessories.”
Sitting in the back, it’s clear there isn’t a ton of space for more inventory. As it is, the room is more than half filled with shoes, hot sellers in Nakusp, especially to the younger crowd.
“Footwear is big in Nakusp,” Marie noted.
Little Mountain has become a bit of a sporting hub, and Marie is enthusiastic in her support for local sporting organizations.
“[Many groups] don’t have an outlet,” she said, and is happy to facilitate the sale of memberships or registrations through their store for local groups.
Marie herself started running again this past year as part of the running groups put on by Kari Tithecott. A runner since her early twenties, she stopped when knee and other injuries scared her away from the sport. Now, encouraged by her progress with the running group (she ran a half-marathon last summer) and armed with better running gear, she hardly misses a day. Next year she plans on competing in both a half and a full marathon.
“Eventing is really fun,” she remarked, “it gives you a goal, helps you with your training.”
Both she and Mike are hoping to do some adventure racing, which combines different sports like kayaking or mountain biking with orienteering, in the next year too.
Doing activities like that get them familiar with what they’re selling in the store too, Mike told me. He and a friend recently spent two nights winter camping near the cross-country ski trails on Hot Springs Road.
“It was such a different environment,” he observed, “with snow, it’s clean and pristine.” He and his friend enjoyed their time snowshoeing, tracking animals, and cutting firewood.
“It was fun. She thought we’d be back after the first night,” he teased, pointing at Marie.
The real highlight was an insulated air mattress, which kept him toasty warm on the snow at night.
“I’ve never slept so good,” he raved, grinning, “It was a lot of fun.”
Mike also took out a GPS Spot that lets an outdoor adventurer’s friends and family know where they are and that they’re ok. If they’re not, there is a “help” button as well as a “911” button that calls emergency services with their longitude and latitude coordinates.
“We know the product,” he said, something their staff is constantly learning about.
“Customer service is key, especially in a small town,” added Marie, who chooses employees with the right attitude, the interest in continually learning and wanting to share what they learn with customers.
Their dedication to great service has included helping customers get replacements or refunds when needed, something the Wredes try to avoid by bringing in durable, reliable goods.
“There’s merit to buying quality,” Mike stated, and the store has been rewarded by dedicated shoppers who always come to Little Mountain first when they’re searching for something.