The Business of Play
The outdoor recreation industry is growing by leaps and bounds. Meet a few of our local business owners with skin in the game.
RIDING AND GLIDING AT GLACIER CYCLERY & NORDIC
For Glacier Cyclery & Nordic, biking and skiing go hand in hand. Mike Meador, co-owner and lead mechanic, explains, “We’re a bike shop that sells Nordic gear. That said, we all Nordic ski. And a lot of the customers are crossover customers.”
“Like all booms, we don’t expect that to last, but there are so many people getting into cycling,” Meador says. “It’s great! And not just from a business standpoint. It’s just great to see so many people getting out of their cars and getting outside.”
Ron and Jan Brunk started Glacier Cyclery as a side business in 1982, when Ron started fixing bikes in the back of a mountaineering store in downtown Whitefish. They added the “and Nordic” about a decade ago when they bought the Outback Ski Shack on Whitefish Golf Course. They’ve since sold it to the Glacier Nordic Club, but kept the retail end, selling both skate and classic skis. Meador, along with co-owners Vanessa Gailey and Tyler Tourville, bought into the business over time and the three are now the majority owners.
Though Glacier Cyclery serves customers near and far, the shop’s location in downtown Whitefish attracts tourists looking for rentals, especially as Whitefish becomes a popular mountain biking destination. “It used to be a place that people happened upon while they were on a trip, and over the years it’s become more of a destination, where people plan their trips around coming to Whitefish to ride,” Meador says.
Even with significant supply issues due to the pandemic, the shop has seen an explosion of new customers. “Like all booms, we don’t expect that to last, but there are so many people getting into cycling,” Meador says. “It’s great! And not just from a business standpoint. It’s just great to see so many people getting out of their cars and getting outside.”
BOOTS, HATS, AND MORE AT WESTERN OUTDOOR
Though styles have changed over the years, the dedicated customer service at Western Outdoor remains the same.
“I don’t want to say nothing’s changed, but yeah, nothing’s really changed,” says Mark Pirrie, who co-owns the western wear store in downtown Kalispell with his sister, Susan Pirrie. “We’re all about customer service and carrying top product. We love to special order. The bedrock of our store is customer service and taking care of the customer.”
“People have no idea that we have up to 3,000 pair of boots and a couple thousand hats in here.”
Gordon Pirrie, Mark and Susan’s father, bought into Western Outdoor as a partner in 1970 and eventually became the sole owner, passing it on to his children in the 1990s. Beth Pirrie, Mark’s wife, owns Norm’s Soda Fountain next door.
Western Outdoor serves customers “all over the board,” Pirrie says. “We carry boots for the entry-level tourist on up to the hardcore working-level ranchers. Everyone from firefighters to bankers to casual wear. Anyone that would wear a boot, we kind of hit it.”
Most new folks passing by don’t realize the full scope of Western Outdoor’s storefront and product. “People have no idea that we have up to 3,000 pair of boots and a couple thousand hats in here,” says Pirrie. Customers are also surprised to learn that Western Outdoor carries Filson, an outdoor clothing and accessories brand out of Seattle.
“We sell a ton of Filson, so that line’s really grown for us. We definitely have the most Filson in northwest Montana, if not in Montana,” Pirrie says, adding that his goal is to get people into the store to see Western Outdoor for themselves, because, “Once they get in, they’re hooked.”
YOUR NEW ADVENTURE STARTS AT RMO
Introducing newbies to different outdoor activities has always been a big part of the culture at Rocky Mountain Outfitter.
“You’ll come into the store and there will be three people working, and there will be 100 years of combined outdoor retail expertise. We are a rare breed of store that has that.”
“I know stores like ours can sometimes be intimidating for people to come into,” owner Jandy Cox acknowledges. “For some of these activities, the gear is foreign and intimidating, and it’s expensive hypothetically, and often people don’t really know where to start with it.” He goes on to reassure customers, “Whether it’s backcountry skiing or climbing or kayaking or whatever it is, we’re all very passionate about what we love to do, but also sharing that information with other people.”
Don Scharfe opened RMO in 1976, initially living behind a fake wall in the tiny storefront which he slowly moved back as he built more inventory. Cox joined the staff over 30 years ago and bought the store in 2018 with his wife, Denise.
Cox explains that the philosophy of RMO is not only to help people find the right gear, but also to point them toward the right trail, river, or mountain for an adventure that fits their goals and skill level. “Not just, ‘Here’s some gear and where’s your credit card?’ and you’re out the door,” he says, “but really making the whole thing a successful start to a new activity.”
He concludes that RMO has a valuable wealth of experience to share, in addition to their great gear selection. “You’ll come into the store and there will be three people working, and there will be 100 years of combined outdoor retail expertise. We are a rare breed of store that has that.”
GET BACK TO WHAT YOU LOVE WITH ORTHO- REHAB
At OrthoRehab, therapists pride themselves on tailoring treatment to the individual patient.
“At the end of the day, we just really try to stay local and pump energy and time back into our communities, so that’s our mission.” – Tyler Ladenburg, OrthoRehab
“If you just want to get up and down your stairs, we can do that, and if you want to get back to high-level skiing, hunting, fishing, et cetera, we really try to tailor that to the individual patient,” adds Ben Kingan, director of the Kalispell clinic.
Founded in 1986, OrthoRehab Physical Therapy now has 11 clinics in Western Montana, with six in the Flathead. “When you live in the Flathead Valley, you don’t get a lot of people who want rehab so they can go back to being anything less than very active,” Ladenburg says. “It’s just the nature of the patients we have here.”
“We try to fit you with a therapist who fits with what you like to do,” Kingan continues. “We try to tailor our facilities to that too—for instance, in Kalispell we have some pretty cool equipment that helps rehab for getting back to shooting your bow in the fall.” Ladenburg adds that the Columbia Falls branch has specialized equipment to help patients return to skiing.
OrthoRehab and Glacier Medical Associates also recently partnered to turn the old Plum Creek administrative building in Columbia Falls into the Cedar Palace Medical Center.
“It serves pretty much every medical need you can imagine,” Ladenburg says. “At the end of the day, we just really try to stay local and pump energy and time back into our communities, so that’s our mission.”
Photos: Mandy Mohler
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