Grand opening: Tacoma welcomes new REI store

To the delight of area outdoor enthusiasts, REI – a well-known supplier of specialty outdoor gear – opened a store in Tacoma this morning.

Eric Simonson, a Tacoma resident and Everest mountaineer, whose “Detectives of Everest” exhibit is on display at the Washington History Museum in Tacoma, cut the climbing webbing to officially open the store.

In celebration of the grand opening, several events will continue at the store throughout the weekend, including a Mini-Mountain Kid Slope, a breakfast sponsored by Royal Robbins, free stainless steel coffee tumblers to the first 500 customers on Saturday, and other prizes, including ski lift tickets and top brand gear.

Local outdoor organizations will have tables set up to share information about outdoor recreation.

A pre-opening reception was held at the store Thursday night. Attendees included city government and store officials, members of local outdoor organizations and equipment suppliers.

Also on hand were Simonson and mountaineering legend Lou Whittaker, co-founder of Rainier Mountaineering, Inc.

A Washington native, Whittaker has led successful expeditions to the summits of some of the world’s highest mountains, including Everest.

Whittaker was part of the expedition that found famed explorer George Mallory’s body on Everest in 1999.

“We have a lot of new members in this area,” said senior public relations associate Mike Foley.

Members of REI’s consumer cooperative receive special benefits and offers, including an annual patronage refund based on purchases. Non-members are welcome to shop at REI.

“We’re not publicly owned,” Foley said of the company. “Our owners and customers are the same people.”

With traffic congestion as bad as it is in the Puget Sound region, area residents didn’t like having to travel to other REI stores in Federal Way and Seattle, he said.

“There are 24,000 members delighted to see us in this market,” said REI Chief Executive Officer Dennis Madsen. “There are 390,000 households in the Tacoma market.”

The feeling is mutual, according to Jerry Chavassus, REI vice president of store development: “We’ve always been wanting a store in the South Sound.”

Negotiations started early in the year with Good Guys, the electronics store that previously occupied the building, Chavassus said.

Once a deal was worked out, he said about 115-120 days of construction transformed the building into REI’s Tacoma store, a 22,500-square-foot building that includes a mezzanine inspired by old building plans.

“It adds a lot of character to the building,” Chavassus said, describing the building’s functional architecture as a “raw, industrial lodge look.”

Mithun Architects of Seattle is the building’s architect.

Inside the building, shoppers will find a wide variety of equipment catering to individual outdoor sports, like biking, camping, hiking and rock climbing.

There are several interactive features, including a climbing boulder, a water filter station and footwear test trail.

About 60 employees will staff the well-known retailer, Foley said.

“We at REI are like proud parents,” Madsen said.

And Tacoma is proud to be the site of an REI store.

Echoing a mantra he has been stressing at a slew of groundbreaking and grand opening ceremonies, Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma asked, “Is Tacoma on a roll or what?”

“This is, indeed, a big deal for all of us,” he said. “REI is more than just a store. It’s an attitude.”

Both Tacoma and REI share that same attitude that includes loyalty and a sense of community, he stated.

REI’s arrival in Tacoma will also have a positive effect on the city’s economy, Baarsma said, noting it will show the area can support a growing market, create new jobs and provide a clubhouse of sorts for REI members.

REI joins two new stores in the area that have recently opened – Best Buy and Jared The Galleria of Jewelry.

REI got its start in 1938 when mountain climbers Lloyd and Mary Anderson joined with 23 fellow Northwest climbers to found Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI).

The group formed a consumer cooperative to supply themselves with high-quality ice axes and other climbing gear.

REI currently has more than 2 million active members through 63 retail stores in the 24 states throughout the United States and by direct sales via the Internet ( and, telephone and mail.

“This city has been great to us,” Tacoma REI store manager Chris Joyce said.

REI is celebrating the opening of another new store today, in Tukwila.
These are the first stores REI has added to the Puget Sound in 10 years.
The Tacoma REI store is located at 3825 Steele St.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m on Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

Hours will be expanded for the holidays, beginning Dec. 14 and continue through the end of the year: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.