Winslow’s outdoor epicenter to shutter:Back of Beyond packs up amid waterfront renovations, rising rent

Downtown Bainbridge’s premiere small boat emporium, Back of Beyond, will soon call Winslow home no more.

The owners announced this week that the canoe and kayak instructional outfit and shop, founded in 1999 by husband and wife team Udo Wald and Janet Nichols, is shuttering its downtown retail space and temporarily suspending rental and tour services amid renovations currently underway at Waterfront Park and the general increase in rent for a commercial space in Winslow.

Back of Beyond had long run canoe and kayak rentals from a small floating annex, “the barge,” attached to the public dock, while the business was actually operated, along with the tour and retail operations, from the store at 181 Winslow Way, next to Esther’s Fabrics.

With the barge being removed as part of the dock renovations, and access points to the Winslow waterfront changing as well, Wald said they had no choice but to give up the shop and rethink the store’s business model.

“The dock is being redone in the summertime,” he explained. “They’ll close down the dock and the turnaround area in there, so there won’t be any rental operation down there, nor will we be able to go ahead and drop boats down there and we won’t be able to go ahead and really do our kids program.”

The loss of the barge especially, though expected since the city announced plans to renovate the dock and park, was a critical blow to the store, Wald said.

“That removes a big chunk out of our income,” he said. “As it is now, with that revenue flow gone, there’s no way we can afford to keep the store up here.”

Wald and Nichols originally ran the business out of a space close to where they are now and acquired the barge, which had been in operation but changed hands often for about five years previously, nearly 15 years ago.

They used the shop to attract and educate customers before taking them to the dock for rentals, tours and instructional sessions. That proved such a success that Wald and Nichols then expanded the store and moved it into the current, larger location.

Wald expected for at least a year during construction to have no access to the dock and be forced to store the rental boats somewhere farther from the water, he said. It was “not feasible,” he said, to wait it out and also keep the shop.

Similar operations in Seattle were having to close their doors as well recently, he added, as the boat rental market in general was not great.

“It’s difficult to do retail and the rents are really high,” Wald said.

“I have the best landlord in town and he’s really worked with us — and everybody else in this complex. It’s just not feasible because the revenue’s just not there and everybody else is having the same problem. We just had another kayak and canoe shop in Seattle close up.”

There is no plan to relocate the business to a different physical space, Wald said, though next year he and Nichols intend to begin offering guided trips, equipment rentals and instructional services again sans storefront.

“It will be a much smaller thing than we have now,” he said. “We’re finding a space and we’ll be using that as an office, and then we’ll have a storage area where we have the boats. I’ll be reducing by quite a bit my kayak inventory and concentrating on canoes, and we’ll be running canoe tours next summer because we can go ahead and put in at Fort Ward.”

Despite the cost, Wald said he was very pleased to see the park and dock getting a makeover.

“It needed to be done,” he said. “I don’t object to it at all. The dock was in terrible condition.”

Wald said he would miss running the store’s youth program, which saw in some years more than 200 pint-sized participants, most of all.

“We’re planning to do more of that, working with schools and having a more direct program instead of just being open and here we are come and see us,” he said, noting the shop’s long partnership with IslandWood, among others.

“We’re going to stay on the island, we’re going to keep on doing it — just move it around a little bit.”

The Winslow shop will be closed by late January.

Visit www.tothebackof for more information and a list of classes, rental options and tours.

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