By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
From the start, things are done differently at REI.
The Salem-Keizer REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) has its grand opening this weekend at 6035 Ulali Drive NE in Keizer Station. Doors open at 10 a.m. Friday with a ribbon cutting.
Except it’s not any ordinary grand opening at the former Circuit City building.
Washington-based REI has been an outdoor gear retailer for 75 years, so a standard ribbon cutting just wouldn’t do.
“We are having a webbing cutting with a knife,” store manager Juan Quintero said while giving the Keizertimes a tour of the 22,165 square foot building on Monday.
The first 200 people through the door each of the first three days will receive a water bottle with an REI promotional card inside, with values ranging from $10 to $100. Those joining the co-op during the opening weekend will get an REI t-shirt, while those applying for an REI Visa card will get a $20 REI gift card.
There will also be live music and a free continental breakfast each day at 9 a.m.
Even before entering the store, patrons will notice a difference. Instead of normal door handles, the doors are opened by grabbing ice axes.
The ice axes date back to Lloyd and Mary Anderson’s formation of REI in 1938. Lloyd was a climber looking for an ice ax to use while climbing. He found a reasonably priced one from Austria. Friends started noticing and wanted their own, which led to the eventual formation of the Recreational Equipment Cooperative.
“Those door handles are an iconic REI feature,” Quintero said. “Lloyd and Mary Anderson in 1938 wanted better climbing gear.”
Store management was hired in early February, with most of the training for the store’s 53 employees done over a recent three-week period. Merchandise started coming in April 23, with staff working since then to get everything in place. During the opening week, experts from other REI stores will be helping to get the Keizer employees up to speed.
“Things couldn’t be going better,” Quintero said.
Quintero, who worked at REI from 1997 to 2007 before leaving to work at Dick’s Sporting Goods, returned to REI two years ago. He isn’t new to the rodeo in terms of opening an REI store, something he did in California in 2006.
“I’m telling my employees to enjoy the experience,” Quintero said. “It’s such a unique experience to open an REI. It’s such high energy and motivation. So many things are happening at the same time. Nothing else compares to that. It’s exciting on both sides. It is incredible.”
Most recently, Quintero was at the REI store in Tualatin. He knows firsthand of the desire for a location in the Salem market.
“Salem-Keizer has been waiting for this for a long time,” he said. “In Tualatin, I had people on a daily basis from here, asking when REI would be coming here.”
Christine Dieker, executive director of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce, looks forward to the opening of the store, located just across the parking lot from her office.
“I’m excited for the opening,” Dieker said. “It’s been highly anticipated as a great new retail offering in Keizer, especially on the side of sports adventure products. I’m real curious to see the visibility this brings and if this will bring in more visitors to our office.”
REI Salem-Keizer will have gear and clothing for camping, climbing, cycling, fitness, hiking, travel and more. It will also have a bike shop, with a full range of services.
Quintero noted much was done to alter the space, which last held a retailer in early 2009.
“Other than the four walls, everything else is new,” he said. “Plus we put our own new walls behind the existing walls.”
Regular store hours will be 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays. More information is available at REI.com/Salem.