Owners: Chris and Erica Gerston
Why Bellingham? “Bellingham is a great town with a progressive vibe. It’s situated within a couple hours of world-class recreation, no matter what you want to do. It’s also just a perfect sized town.”
Favorite shop downtown? Taco Lobo (Chris); Brandywine, The Black Drop and Heroine (Erica)
A couple years after an REI opened in Bellingham, the two outdoor shops downtown went out of business, leaving a hole in the sizable outdoor community in the area. Downtown lacked a central hub for outdoor enthusiasts. Chris and Erica Gerston decided to fill in that hole by opening their own specialty outdoor retail shop, Backcountry Essentials. The couple makes a perfect team - Chris does all the front-end tasks while Erica does the accounting and back-end parts. Next month will be Backcountry Essentials’ 10th anniversary!
Backcountry Essentials caters to skiers, climbers, backpackers and other outdoorsy people of the northwest. Customers can find new and used gear, making it possible for everyone to find something within their budget. Since they are in a relatively small space, Chris and Erica carry a carefully manicured, high-end selection of gear that survives the Northwest’s terrain and weather. They also try their best to find closeouts and other good deals for their customers.
Backcountry Essentials also has a wide variety of rental items such as skis, snowshoes, mountaineering equipment, backpacking packs, stoves, avalanche equipment, cross country equipment and more. Perhaps one of the most unique items in the shop is the beer cooler, which holds 99 bottles of beer. Eight years ago, Chris and Erica got rid of kayaking equipment, due to space restrictions, and replaced it with a selection of beer. “People like their used gear and beer,” Chris said.
One thing Chris prides himself on is his staff’s experience and their focus on custom fitting. The staff at Backcountry Essentials isn’t just getting gear on people and out the door. They custom fit boots and backpacks, which plays a big role in someone’s experience outdoors. “A poorly-fitting pack makes for a long day,” Chris said. “Our boot fitter, Frank, is probably the best boot fitter this town has ever seen.” Another thing Chris is proud of is their relationship with their customers. Erica really enjoys how co-owning Backcountry Essentials makes her feel like part of the community. “I like being a part of getting people outside and making their time off fun,” she said.
Over the years, Chris and Erica have communicated with their customers, and when Backcountry Essentials needs their support, customers step up and help out. Because of this, the shop is throwing a party in May for their 10th anniversary, but also as a commemorative “thank you” to customers. There will be a sale, food, beverages and giveaways throughout the night.
Chris and Erica try to host events at least every month, including book releases, outdoor movies, slideshows, environmental education presentations and other events to entertain the outdoor crowd. These events make Backcountry Essentials a central hub for information, community members and outdoorsy people - their original goal for the shop. Not only are they hosting the anniversary party next month, but they are also sponsors of the Downtown Bellingham Partnership’s Wine Walk. The duo wanted to support the event partly because of it’s timing with their anniversary celebration, and also because they missed out last year. “We heard great things about it, and wanted to be involved this time,” Chris said.
Visit 214 W Holly St. for any of your outdoor needs.
Today's post was written by Kristin Foster, Media Intern.