Birth of an Idea

So, there I was sitting eating lunch with a dear old friend in a tiny bistro overlooking the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle. “So” I said, he and I worked together for 5 years at Cascade Designs (Thermarest, MSR) “What are the chances that REI would put a store in Syracuse, New York?” Great question given that he was a high-level exec with REI, “Slim to none, perhaps Rochester” was the answer. Wow, that stung.

Ah, the birth of an idea. The gears roared in my mind. What would it take to create our own REI? What would it take to create a member cooperative dedicated to human powered outdoor activities and the outdoor lifestyle? Is Syracuse ready for something like this? After all, I came here 19 years ago pushing the idea of a rock climbing gym and the local folks could not conceive of the idea and wondered why anyone would be interested. The looks I got were astounding. Back then, there wasn’t even a Starbucks here let alone a climbing gym. Chipotle, Panera? Unimaginable.

16 years passed and the Anthropologist in me had noted the changes in this community’s attitude, in the growth of sophistication and maturation of thought. I had just finished a 6 year stint pioneering the L.L. Bean presence in Fayetteville, their Outdoor Discovery School in Cazenovia when my mind screamed out, “IT’S TIME!”. I then did two things; start a Meetup to get a sense of the community interest (called it the Backcountry Co-op back then); and find the local Co-op expert to help me make it happen.

Trees take a while to grow, and fruit takes time to ripen, but here we are today on the verge of the reality of the Outdoor Adventure Co-op. We are a New York Cooperative Corporation with a license to sell just waiting on one final bureaucratic piece to be fully operational. The Meetup has over 600 interested people, the steering committee putting the Co-op together is composed of 7 very motivated people with a dream of a socially responsible community, focused on human powered outdoor activities, based in the City of Syracuse. We want to go beyond REI in purpose. Bikes for Peace, a bike ‘kitchen’, kayak rentals and instruction, weekly group adventures, new and used gear sales, outreach to introduce inner-city kids to the wonder of the outdoors, film festivals, whatever the membership wants. The dream is alive and becoming a reality.

Greg Schwarz