Steve and Kerry Sutorius have created a retail niche store – somewhat similar to REI only much smaller – that has proven successful in downtown Port Townsend during the last few years.
Now they’re out to establish themselves on Bainbridge Island.
Wildernest Outdoor Store opened last month on Winslow Way, filling the space previously held by Classic Cycle, which moved east to Harbor Square earlier this year. The 4,000-square-foot store features upscale outdoor clothing and camping staples such as lightweight backpacks, sleeping bags, tents and accessories. Wildernest also offers climbing and mountaineering equipment.
But the emphasis, particularly in the Winslow store, is on premium clothing lines such as North Face, Patagonia, Osprey and Ibex.
The owners said they weren’t looking to open another store and were hesitant at first because of the economy, but the downtown location and the absence of a similar store on the island offered an opportunity they couldn’t pass up.
“We saw a need here that wasn’t being filled,” Kerry said. “We know Jeff (Groman) of Classic Cycle and he approached us about this space being open. We’ve had a lot of people come in and thank us just for opening the store. It’s been great.”
Steve said sales in the new store are already matching those in the Port Townsend store, which is about half the size of the newest Wildernest.
“In Port Townsend, our sales run about 50-50 between locals and tourists,” he said. “But here, it’s running about 90 percent for locals. That’ll probably change some during the summer months, but people seem to be happy we’re here.”
Operating two stores and splitting their time between a home in Port Townsend and an apartment on the island will be a challenge. But they are childless and committed to a lifestyle that in some ways changed abruptly when they decided to put most of their energy into owning and operating an outdoor store.
Steve is a self-proclaimed college dropout from Chicago who followed his interest in the outdoors to Alaska (whitewater guide), Montana (skier and outdoor guide) and eventually Western Washington. He met Kerry in Marion, Mont., where the native of Lawrence, Kan., worked as a alcohol-drug counselor at a outdoor camp for kids. They married in 1999 and eventually settled in Port Townsend when Kerry and Steve were hired by Gray Wolf Camp, which provides substance abuse counseling for boys. Kerry worked as a counselor and Steve helped provided outdoors experiences for the clients.
“I guess you could say our lives have been focused on kids and the outdoors,” he said. “That’s changed some now, but our interests do influence our business and how we do things.”
While they now have deep roots in Port Townsend, they are enjoying meeting new people and learning about Bainbridge.
“We’re going to like it here,” Kerry said. “Business-wise, we know what we’re doing and we’re good at getting along with everyone. We know how to co-exist with other businesses and we’ll work hard for a healthy downtown. We like how friendly people are and just the feeling here.”
Other first impressions include: Yes, the downtown dies at night, even when compared to Port Townsend; during the day, however, “the older population seems very active and visible.” And they were surprised at “how diverse” the island is. “When you mention Bainbridge in Port Townsend, everyone thinks about ‘money’. There’s more to it than that.”
The two stores are different and reflect the locations. Port Townsend is smaller and “is like a treasure hunt” with items tucked away, while the new store is larger and roomier, and allows the goods to be more spread out.
“Doing what we’re doing,” Kerry said, “you need to have a solid staff at both places if this is going to work. We do. In PT, our employees are mostly 20 year olds. We have six employees here and five of them are over 40. They’re so responsible and they know the community so it’s great for us. We feel we can step away and not worry about everything.”