Scott Keith, owner of the Northwest Outdoor Store, sits in a Hobie Kayak at his store in the Bear Creek Shopping Center. - Bob Pennell

Local man sells home to open outdoor store

Backpackers, rock climbers, kayakers and the like won't have to trek out of Medford to get specialized equipment for their next venture.

Northwest Outdoor Store has opened just south of Bi-Mart in the Bear Creek Plaza shopping center.

From the moment McKenzie Outfitters closed its doors on Biddle Road two and a half years ago, Scott Keith said he planned to open his own store.

"Ever since McKenzie closed, every week I would run into old customers at the grocery store or on the street and they always expressed a desire that we would reopen," Keith said.

But he wasn't in any hurry.

"The timing wasn't right, and the economy wasn't encouraging anyone to open a new business," Keith said.

Then Joe's Sports, Outdoor & More shuttered its regional chain, including a Medford store, in the spring of 2009, creating a vacuum.

"It got me going a little sooner than I planned," said Keith. "But I know the Rogue Valley, and Medford in particular, can support a locally owned outdoor store full of product and employees with the knowledge to walk people through the process."

Not everyone was convinced, however.

"I went to every bank in the valley (looking for start-up financing) and told them I had a fair amount of equity in my home," Keith said. "The short answer was that there are so many foreclosures that they really don't want real estate as collateral. It was a very frustrating time."

The veteran climber and packer who guided on Mount Shasta for three years before an eight-year stint with McKenzie Outfitters has traversed obstacles from the North Slope of Alaska to Central America, so he met this one head on.

"I sold my home and made an investment in the store for my family," Keith said. "It's literally all on the line. It's what I love doing. My whole life revolves around the outdoors one way or another."

Rather than merely recreating McKenzie Outfitters, Keith decided to wed the best of McKenzie's high-end approach and Joe's entry level for newcomers.

"We want to offer the best of both," he said. "McKenzie didn't always offer entry-level price points and we definitely are going to do that."

The store is open seven days a week and will employ six to start. Darryl Rasmussen, an assistant store manager with Keith at McKenzie, will fill a similar role.

Keith wanted a more visible location than the one McKenzie Outfitters vacated behind Barnes & Noble Booksellers.

"Bi-Mart and TJ Maxx are really big draws, and we have signage both on Biddle and McAndrews Road," he said. "We did look downtown by the (Rogue Community College) campus. We looked over by South Fred Meyer, at the (former) Hollywood Video store, but we just didn't find the right spot."

The 5,300-square-foot store will carry elite brands but also will stock items other outdoor retailers might not.

"In this economy, you need to be very creative and think outside the box," Keith said. "We'll have a gift department that will include rocks, minerals and home decor items — things you might find at the gift shop of a nature museum."

Many outdoor suppliers cut back production after 2008, and wholesale inventories are just now starting to rebuild.

"In this business, we order a year ahead of time," Keith said. "We've made our orders for winter and next spring. We began ordering as soon as we signed our lease two months ago, but we were not able to get all of our first-choice items because of that. Right now we're just getting up and running, and before the holidays there will be a large influx of product."

He's confident there will be plenty of demand. The Medford Joe's had a strong location and sales.

"If it had been a stand-alone, it would probably still be in business," he said. "But its fortunes rose and fell with the chain."

A fly-fishing section is on the drawing board," Keith said. "But I'm waiting on that until I get regular days off so I can be on river every week. I don't want to open a fly shop and not have the first-hand knowledge of what's going on."

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