REI, a love story

I can’t tell you how my passion for the outdoors came to be without talking about REI. Sure it started nearly 8 years ago when my dad bought Jeremy a backpack so they could go hiking together. Back then none of us knew anything about weight or gear. It was big (maybe 65-80 liters) heavy and orange (Jeremy’s favorite color). Over the next few years when ever my dad was in town he wanted to go visit REI. Pretty soon Jeremy and I would tag along in his trips to the store. Jeremy got on board with camping and backpacking right away. I on the other hand did not.

You see I went car camping many times as a kid and I hated it. Mostly because every time I went camping it rained. And I’m not talking once or twice it rained I literally mean EVERY SINGLE TIME. Didn’t matter if it was May or July or September, it could be Fairy Stone, VA or Manattan, KS. It always rained and that makes camping not fun because you can only play uno so many times before you lose it. So camping was not on my to do list. Plus half the store is clothes that I can’t fit into (a post of another time) so I didn’t really care. Sure the sleeping bags came in bright pretty colors but honestly I don’t care what the temperature rating is because I’m not sleeping outside once it hits 55. Not gonna happen, I’m a temp whimp for a reason.

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So anyways as the years pass I get jealous of this new bond that my dad and Jeremy have over camping and back packing. So I decide to start small, day hikes. A few miles can be done and back home before dinner. I’m sold! Slowly my interest soon grows and now I’m looking for a backpack of my own so I can try to rough it in the woods. By this point I already have a neon hammock that fits my personality and a few basics. But I need a bigger bag to carry my sleeping bag and other stuff and a day bag just isn’t going to be enough. So we go to REI and try fitting on bags and more bags. Guy bags, girl bags, ugly bags and pretty bags. I have a manager stuffing pillows and weight into the bags to get a realistic feel and its going no where. The struggle to be plus size is real. Being outdoorsy and plus size is like an oxymoron they just don’t mix. The girl bags don’t have belts long enough to go around my waist which is what carries most of the weight. The guy bags don’t fit around my shoulders and chest that well. After an hour me, Jeremy and the manager decide to stop trying for the day. He tells us to come back and in the mean time he will keep looking because there is a bag out there and he will find it.  I came back and ended up getting a Kelty bag that is gray and lime green, a winning combo that works great for me. And for an added bonus it didn’t rain when we went camping, the curse had finally been lifted.

After that experience I was sold by the customer service, I mean who really spends an hour trying to make sure you backpack is going to fit you right? Fast forward to now. Me and Jeremy are in the store at least once a week, not nesisarly buying something but at least looking at equipment or asking someone questions. Its gotten to the point where we know most of the staff by name and they know us by name as well. For example in the bike shop we’ve got Avery, Andre and Shawna. At the end of last year they all got hurt and no one could fix bikes, Avery broke his arm while mountain biking, Andre cut his finger and his wife had a baby, and Shawna had to have surgery on her coller bone. Like most customers wouldn’t know that, or care for that matter but in a weird way they have become our friends. They ask us what trips have we been on lately and we ask them the same thing. They give us real life experience because they are out there enjoying the outdoors just like we are.

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Its not just the people that work there that make this store great although it is a huge part. Its what the company does as a whole. If you haven’t heard already for the past two years they have shut down their store on Black Friday. Like 100% closed. All stores. Even online. And as if that wasn’t enough, they pay for their emloyees to have the day off to enjoy with family outside. They call it #OptOutside and its awesome. Instead of waiting in lines for long hours for stuff you don’t really need and get deals you can get another day you spend the day outside enjoying life. With so many companies staying open on Thanksgiving not giving their employees the day off its amazing that a retail company is not only closing Thanksgiving and Black Friday but also paying their employees holiday pay.

They also treat their employees really well. Twice a year they get a Yay Day where they have paid day to go do something fun outside. Go biking, hiking, whatever go do it. I’ve even talked to employees  who have been there for a long time and got to go on longer trips. Some have moved from one store to another as needed for family life balance. They’ve sent employees to get extra training and get paid for the schooling and housing. Crazy good things that no other retailer is doing.

Its not just the employees that get treated well either. Since its a co-op you can buy a lifetime membership for only $20. They keep track of all the money you spent over the year and around March of each year you get a dividend check with a 10% back from what you spent that previous year. (Excludes discounted merchandise and garage sale) The check usually comes in the same week as my birthday so it makes me feel extra special. They also have garage sales once a quarter. If someone returns something they will save it and then have a memembers only sale. I’ve gotten many good deals from this sale. Check out my other post “Lets play catch up” to see what I got at the last sale.

One of things that I love the most is their classes. Usually on Monday nights they host classes throughout each month of different topics. Some of the classes I’ve gone to include  hiking basics, AT planning, Zombie preparation,trail running basics. I know they have classes for bike maintenance, yoga for outdoors, women’s hiking basics and more. Most of them are free, if you do have to pay members get a discount. They will sometimes have outdoor classes for wilderness medicine or rock climbing basics. It just depends on the area and time of year.

So always REI is now just part of who I am. Its a company I can support with my money and treats their employees and customers well. If you want to get outside more but don’t know where to start just walk into REI and start asking questions to someone in a green vest. And don’t worry they don’t make  commission so they won’t try to upsale you.

*Note: REI has no clue who I am, I’m not paid to write posts about them. And at the time of this posting I have less then 10 followers so clearly I’m not making any money off this post I just really like them that much.

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