• Great Outdoors closing its doors
    By Bruce Edwards STAFF WRITER | May 12,2010
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    The Great Outdoors Trading Co., a retail anchor along Woodstock Avenue for 16 years and before that in the downtown, is closing its doors.

    "The primary issue is I'm 61 years old and I've been doing it since I've been 22," owner Chuck Wagenheim said Tuesday during a brief phone interview.

    Asked about the economy and its impact on the business, Wagenheim would only say "everything is a factor."

    He said the three remaining Great Outdoors stores in Killington, Okemo and Mount Snow will remain open.

    Thomas Hirchak Co. of Morrisville is handling the liquidation sale that continues through May 23.

    "We will be selling $600,000 (plus) inventory with progressive discounts starting at 25 percent to 70 percent and increasing through the sale," according to the Hirchak website (www.thcauction.com/05082010GO.html).

    A few customers were in the store Tuesday afternoon looking over the large inventory of deeply discounted merchandise, including archery and hunting equipment, bicycles, clothing, kayaks and skis. Pink letter-sized paper dotted the merchandise racks denoting the size of the discounts.

    Store manager Ron Fox said a crucial factor in the decision to close was the inability to secure bank financing on suitable terms to replenish the store's inventory. Given the size of the store, which occupies three levels, he said having a large inventory was critical to the business.

    According to its original Act 250 permit application, the project included 19,000 square feet of retail space, most of which would be taken up by the sporting goods store.

    Fox said sales had fallen off in recent years but had started to bounce back of late.

    "We started to see something of a rebound but the economy was a big hit," Fox said.

    He said the store lost some business with more people buying their skis online. He added that big box retailer Dick's Sporting Goods initially siphoned off some business when the chain opened, but many of those customers came back for the quality and customer service.

    Fox said the store is down to six employees. During the ski season, that number is between 10 and 12 employees.

    Chuck and Esther Wagenheim started the company in Newport in 1972. They opened their Rutland store in 1985 at 41 Center St. Nine years later, the Wagenheims built a multistore complex at 219 Woodstock Ave. at the site of the former Ray Reilly tire store.

    According to the City Clerk's Office land records, the Wagenheims sold the 3-acre property in 2005 for $2 million to Jon and Jane Jernigan of California. That same year, The Great Outdoors merged with Joe Jones Ski and Sport of North Conway N.H. Together, the combined company had 10 stores.

    Fox said several stores have since been sold, including the North Conway location.

    He said the Killington, Okemo and Mount Snow stores are remaining open because those stores are seasonal and less expensive to operate.

    The Great Outdoors complex is home to four other businesses, including the recently relocated Ben & Jerry's scoop shop, a Subway sandwich shop and The Hair Doctors. A rock climbing center occupies a standalone building at the rear of the property.

    Ben & Jerry's owner Sarah Decandio said the sporting goods store was a magnet, bringing shoppers into the complex. Since the ice cream shop reopened last month, Decandio said business is up 8 percent over the same time last year when the store was located on South Main Street.

    "Hopefully, they can rent it out to somebody else," she said.

    Fox also said customers coming into the store have expressed their regrets.

    "Everybody is sad,'' he said, "but that's Rutland right now."

    Great Outdoors store hours during the liquidation are 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; and11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

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