By Ben Olson
Sandpoint may have changed a bit in the past three decades, but one thing remains the same: we have always loved the outdoors in this community. For many, where adventure begins is buying the right gear and asking the right people for advice on trails and destinations. Last month, Outdoor Experience celebrated 35 years of being the brick-and-mortar nucleus for everything outdoors in the greater Sandpoint area.
OE, as it’s known by many locals, got its start in May 1986 as a joint venture between Kevin Nye and Mark DeLaVergne. Known as the place where you can try on anything from the newest winter puffy jacket to rock climbing shoes, OE has always been the place to go for anything outdoors.
Current owner Jenny Curto took over the helm at OE in May 2019 after a fortuitous meeting with Nye’s wife, Julie. Curto moved to Sandpoint from Seattle in 2017 with her partner — whose family lives in the area — and was eager to get involved with the outdoor scene here from day one.
“I’ve had about 10 years of experience in the outdoor industry,” Curto told the Reader. “More recently working in-house with Cascade Designs in Seattle.”
Curto said she was working remotely for the Seattle firm the first couple of years she lived in Sandpoint, but was eager for a new direction.
“The longer we lived here, I was trying to find a way to do something in this community,” she said. “It was kind of sad working remotely and not being able to contribute. I started running with Julie [Nye] and her friends and [Kevin Nye] made an offhand remark in January of 2019 about, ‘Have you ever thought about owning an outdoors store?’”
That innocent question kicked off a five- or six-month period of research and evaluation by Curto, who dove head-first into the opportunity.
“Once he planted that seed, I couldn’t get it out of my head,” she said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something I cared about in this community I cared about. I felt like I had to make it happen.”
Curto said it was important to honor what Nye and DeLaVergne had created with Outdoor Experience.
“First and foremost, I wanted to preserve what they created and continue that legacy,” she said. “It’s been successful and been around for so long.”
Most of the staff stayed on during the ownership transition, including longtime employee and sales manager Jane Arndt. Nye and DeLaVergne also help out with advice whenever Curto reaches out, and Julie Nye also assists with accounting.
“The crew we have this summer is so dialed in,” Curto said of her five employees. “I feel really lucky to get to come to work with them every day.”
Curto said the pandemic caused a disruption for supply, as it did with many other businesses, but it was a healthy sign that more and more people were interested in getting outdoors and recreating.
Along with offering a variety of gear, covering every season and outdoor activity, Curto said another important part of the business is community outreach. Every Monday evening at 6 p.m. she hosts a running group that gathers, rain or shine. The group will mark its 100th running session at the end of June. OE also participates in group rides, outreach with Sandpoint’s trail-building community, clean-up efforts in our wilderness and outdoor events like the Race the Wolf trail race held at Schweitzer.
“In this era of online shopping, people come in here all the time looking on their phones wanting to buy online, but what makes brick-and-mortar shops successful is the community building that we do,” Curto said. “The relationships we form with our customers and the education you get when working with a retail associate is priceless. If you build that trust, they might go out of their way to buy from you downtown instead of online. We really appreciate that.”
Curto said she not only appreciates her customers, but fellow small business owners, who are always happy to lend an ear any time she needs advice.
“I’m so grateful for this community,” she said.
Curto said she’s honored to take the Outdoor Experience that Nye and DeLaVergne built from the ground up and keep providing gear, advice and a friendly smile to seasonal visitors and longtime locals alike.
“I intend for OE to be around for many more years to come,” she said.
Check out Outdoor Experience at 314 N. First Ave. in downtown Sandpoint or call them at 208-263-6028 for any of your outdoors needs.
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