Blue Ridge Mountain Sports: A Lament

Virginia's pioneering outdoor outfitter is shutting down.

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With the passing of Blue Ridge Mountain Sports comes another passing of an era.

Founded in Charlottesville in 1971, Blue Ridge was one of an exciting group of new outdoor equipment stores that served the increasingly popular hiking, rock climbing and camping markets.

A good part of their market consisted of people in their teens and twenties, largely college people, who were motivated by a new attention on the environment.

The first Earth Day had been held the year before, on April 22, 1970, just as President Richard Nixon (yes, Nixon) was preparing some of the most far-reaching new environmental laws ever.

Old-line outdoor shops had been around for years but they typically aimed at the hunting and fishing crowd or aging preppies that go for the L.L. Bean look.

For the rest of us, there were Army-Navy stores, which is where I shopped when I got into camping and hiking as a boy in West Virginia. I had to throw my sleeping bag away after Woodstock in 1969 because it simply was too filthy to save.

The move outdoors was beginning to take off, especially in the Blue Ridge Mountains, from Old Rag to Loft Mountain and points north and south. In time, Blue Ridge Mountain Sports had 12 stores from Blacksburg to New Jersey, including two in the Richmond area on West Broad Street and Chesterfield Towne Center.

They were victims of their own popularity. They couldn’t compete with mass marketers now here such as Bass Pro Shops or R.E.I., a 78-year-old cooperative from Washington State that has more than 140 stores and in 2014 had $2.2 billion in revenue, a 10-percent increase over the previous year. A high-end Cabela’s is coming to the area as well.

The sad part is that the Blue Ridge, which stemmed from a project at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, was a true pioneer.

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