Business

REI is coming to SLO. What does The Mountain Air think of the new competition?

Could an REI be in San Luis Obispo’s future?

REI is working to open a store at the SLO Promenade in San Luis Obispo. It would be located next to the future Sprout's Farmers Market store in the old Forever 21 building.
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REI is working to open a store at the SLO Promenade in San Luis Obispo. It would be located next to the future Sprout's Farmers Market store in the old Forever 21 building.

Many outdoors enthusiasts are thrilled with the announcement that REI Co-op is now officially coming to San Luis Obispo.

But some also have wondered how it might affect The Mountain Air store downtown — a locally owned and operated business that has been a SLO mainstay for the past 45 years.

REI plans to open in the fall in a 22,000-square-foot space next to Sprouts in the SLO Promenade at 313 Madonna Road, Suite B. The chain store is currently renovating the space in preparation for the new location.

The scenario is exemplary of the intense pressure placed on local SLO businesses to compete with national chains and online competition, driving out some.

In response to inquiries and the general buzz, The Mountain Air issued a statement Tuesday on its Instagram and Facebook pages.

“This fall, we look forward to welcoming and working with our new neighbor, REI, to continue to advance the awesome and engaged local outdoor community we’ve been lucky enough to serve for 45 years,” noted the store, located at 667 Marsh St. “With over 150 stores across the country, we’d also like to recognize REI for their work as stewards of both the environment and the outdoor industry to which we belong.”

The statement also served as a reminder of The Mountain Air’s four-decade presence in the community, and plans for continued success.

“Over the years, we’ve learned a thing or two about business, and, most importantly, we’ve learned about our customers,” the statement notes. “We’ve outfitted you for everything from your local campout at #MDO (Montaña de Oro State Park) to your hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney.”

Their message concludes: “We’ll continue to be with you, offering only the highest quality outdoor goods and the positively outrageous customer service you’ve come to expect. Welcome to the neighborhood, REI, and here’s to another 45 years of The Mountain Air serving the Central Coast. #breatheitin.”

Social media users widely expressed support for The Mountain Air, saying they will continue to patronize the store to ensure its survival.

“We will continue to support our locally-owned small business,” one poster wrote. “Don’t worry The Mountain Air, we got your back.”

Mountain Air.jpg
Hikers explore the Trans-Catalina trail, donning The Mountain Air hats. Courtesy The Mountain Air

Another noted: “A terrific lesson in business leadership you’re teaching. We should all take notes. Big respect TMA. You’re a fixture in our community that I’m confident will be here for another 45.”

An exact date for the opening of REI hasn’t been announced.

“Close to the California coast and Los Padres National Forest, San Luis Obispo is a thriving outdoor hub,” said Greg Mellinger, REI retail director for California and Nevada, in a news release. “We are thrilled to finally join San Luis Obispo and further connect our members to the amazing outdoor opportunities this community has to offer.”

To celebrate the new store, REI will partner with The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County and Central Coast Concerned Mountain Bikers (CCMB) to support stewardship efforts in the local community, the store noted in its release.

In 2018, REI invested over $900,000 in nonprofits in California, according to store officials.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.
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