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Best of Olympia 2014 Retail: Best outdoor gear store - The Alpine Experience

The longtime outfitter is being born again


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The Alpine Experience is dead; long live Centro.

The longtime outfitter, which again was our readers' pick for best outdoor gear store, is being born again, evolving into something that's not exactly an outdoor gear store.

Rather, think of it as an urban adventure marketplace, including The Bike Stand, Olympia Footwear Co., a cafe serving wine and beer and a series of concept shops that will carry a deep selection of items by a changing selection of brands.

The changes, which coincide with the retirement of co-owners Steve Hyer Sr. and Val Hyer, are designed to keep the business ahead of the changing trends in retail as well as changes in the business of selling outdoor gear.

"We don't want to just catch up to where retail has come to," said owner Joe Hyer, Steve and Val's son. "We need to leap ahead of where things are. We have to be accepting and embracing of change."

It was Joe who came up with the business plan for The Alpine Experience back in 1996, and now he's come up with another.

The goods that will be stocked in the new concept shops will lean toward gear for day hikers and shoes and clothing for daily wear and away from mountaineering and camping.

"Baby Boomers don't sleep on the ground anymore," Hyer says. "And young people don't have nearly the discretionary income they had when we opened. Mountaineering has fallen off as a sport."

"Fortunately, outdoor-friendly clothing and shoes are practically a necessity around here," says Heather Antanaitis, the store's marketing and sales coordinator. "For urban living, especially in the Puget Sound area, people want a shoe that is going to give you a little bit of sturdy traction but still looks classy."

Hyer says the idea of shops within the store is as old as the Greek agora, which was a marketplace of ideas as well as goods.

"When I started describing what I'm building to people, they kept telling me it was so new and innovative," he says. "I was like, ‘No, Westfield has one in West Olympia; it's called Capital Mall. The farmers have one downtown; it's the farmers market.' "

He thought about calling the new venture Agora but concluded the word was unfamiliar to most (and too close to Angora, suggesting fluffy sweaters).

His solution was Centro. "In Mexico or Spain, the central market is the centro mercado," he says. "It's what we want to be, the center or the marketplace. And it sounds kind of updated and techy."

Hyer plans to transition smoothly from The Alpine Experience to Centro. "The goal is to not close or to literally close the doors one day on one company and open the doors the next day on a new company," he says. 408 Olympia Ave. NE, Olympia

LINK: Best of Olympia 2014

LINK: Best of Olympia 2013

LINK: Best of Olympia 2012

LINK: Best of Olympia 2011

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