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Former manager buys Vermont's Onion River Sports following closure

Published June 1, 2018
 Onion River Outdoors reopened in early May

MONTPELIER, Vt. (BRAIN) — When retailer Onion River Sports closed its doors after 43 years in business last December, an outpouring of community support made it possible for the store's former manager, Kip Roberts, and his wife, Jen, to purchase the business.

The shop was rebranded Onion River Outdoors and reopened in the same 7,500 square location in downtown Montpelier in May. Roberts launched an Indiegogo campaign earlier this spring to help buy inventory.

"We'd had some lenders come in with some of the financing. So many people in the community said they would put money into this venture but we didn't want to put our hands out and say, 'hey, give us money.' But we ended up launching the Indiegogo where every donation was pre-purchased store credit," Roberts said. "Between that and the other checks people wrote us, we hit our goal of $85,000. Those people who just gifted us money wouldn't take store credit when we offered. A lot of people just want to see their downtown survive and be vibrant. They understand the value of supporting the brick and mortar."

Former Onion River Sports owner Andrew Brewer, who still owns the building where Onion River Outdoors operates, closed the store after a number of factors put a financial strain on the business, including a lawsuit with a web developer who helped with the launch of multiple online sales platforms.

"A payout quarterly combined with dynamic times in retail put a big drain on ORS," Roberts said. "It was rough times there at the end. We closed with declining sales and online sales that once made up 75 percent of the business were a cash drain."

Most inventory was liquidated before the closure, so Roberts said he will continue to build it back up over the next few months. Onion River Outdoors has a full-service repair department and has about seven employees. It sells Specialized, Niner and Salsa, along with an array of outdoor apparel and gear, including skis. Roberts has also brought in a few Specialized Turbo e-bike models, and he thinks sales could grow in that category since the area surrounding Montpelier is hilly.

The shop hosts group mountain and gravel rides, and will add a fat bike ride during winter months. It also put on the Muddy Onion gravel race in April before the shop even opened its doors. The event attracted around 500 riders.

While the online business was part of the purchase, Roberts said he will focus on the brick-and-mortar store for now. As the only walkable sporting goods store downtown, and the only bike shop in the state capital city, a community of about 8,000 people, Roberts said Onion River has a built-in loyalty, and that when he reopened the store, many customers were happy to see him and other employees who weathered the transition.

"Our customer base was itching to buy and stored up purchases waiting for us to open," he said. "We have high expectations from the community, and we've promised that we'd be the general store of outdoor retail. There is that buy-local ethos here, so we want to have a selection that will keep people buying in town."

 

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