Gear West. The Pig. Thirty Years Ago.
Thirty years ago, Gear West Ski & Bike opened their door into a tiny, rented 500 sq foot building behind the Domino’s Pizza building in Long Lake. We (Brian Knutson and myself Jan Guenther) invested $11,000 to stock basic bike repair items. A sprinkling of Bridgestone bikes and a few Fischer skis rounded out the offerings. I remember our first sale, a pair of padded bike gloves and a shift cable. Our building had a connecting door to Dominos and all order mistakes were ours to eat.
Fast forward two years later, after one location change and a lot of hard work, we purchased our building, the old Long Lake State bank. Complete with an up and downstairs safe room, the old bank was retrofitted to house a lot more skis and two additional bike lines. We built an enclosed boatyard to offer Wenonah canoes (I love paddling) and to house a small potbellied pig. I had always wanted a tiny pig and this was my grand opportunity. Hoover, the piglet ate a lot and grew into a rather sturdy midsized pig with tusks, which elicited many comments from Long Lake’s residents.
Pig memories include wrestling Hoover into the retail building during a tornado warning and him beelining into the Powerbar and Gu food displays. How he could smell food thru the mylar wrappers I have no idea, but the ferocity of his eating sprayed goopy food particles everywhere. One chilly night a concerned citizen demanded the Long Lake police investigate the happiness of Hoover since he lived outside. As the police person peered into the outdoor pig house with his light, Hoover lay nestled under a heat lamp all wrapped up just like any Pig with two blankets. The policeman dryly commented, “I wish everyone in Long Lake were as cozy warm as this pig”
Yet, like the evolution of life, Gear West grew. Owning a pig and devoting a large portion of high-priced land to his well-being did not align with stuff I learned in business school. So Hoover retired to ‘the home’, and memories of him turned into marketing the Pig Out sale, and sadly, the Pig Grill.
Much overlap still exists between pigs and Gear West. We consume a lot of food and are stubbornly focused on the activities we love, skiing, biking, and running (thankfully) although thankfully not mud baths and belly scratches. Post PIG, GW housed a customer’s parrot, named Tarzan, for nearly two years. He lived at the store and screeched every time he heard the vacuum cleaner. But that’s another story. Nobody harbors fond memories of the parrot.
What else happened in the remaining 20 years after store pets? Gear West grew (!) and needed MORE room. A separate store had to be added down the street (always in Long Lake), which split the business into two categories. The original bank building kept all the bikes, specifically fancy triathlon bikes, as that sport boomed. The newer location held all our xc ski brands, boots, and poles and our newest adventure, running shoes, and pellet stoves. The stove idea went cold but running, hiking and trail shoes remain a solid category to this day.
Our riskiest move involved expanding, yet again. We purchased the gas station land next to the old Bank/GW building and designed a larger Gear West store to join the businesses back together. After much-contaminated soil was trucked away to taint some distant location, Brian dove into his second passion, which is planting unusual conifers on what is most likely an excessive amount of green space in an urban setting. The new Gear West connected the original bike store to a two-story modern farmhouse-looking building that currently stores and displays all of Gear West’s skis, boots, poles, running/walking shoes, clothing, and other fun stuff that outdoor lovers, love. Our two standard poodles are not far away from the customer couches and are way more interactive as compared to pigs and parrots.
Semi-lastly, we added Alpine skis and service to the mix about a decade ago. Again, we incubated the fledgling Alpine business in a separate rental location up the street. That space did not work out so well and I learned an expensive lesson about opening a new business with little oversight. So I revisited the excitement of excavating and building the remaining part of the gas station, the run-down convenience store, into a ski-lodge-themed retail store. After more buried oil drum challenges, GW Alpine moved into its permanent home, just 10 fur trees away from GW Ski and Bike; the GW specialty sports campus was complete.
Currently, the Gear West team specializes in many areas of service and product knowledge within the bike, xc ski, alpine ski, snowboards, paddleboards, run/walk, custom insoles categories, and more. The GW crew is unique as well. Their depth of knowledge and outdoor experience in all areas of the sports we love is unmatched within any other retail store. We cater to anybody passionate about outdoor fitness, young and mature, beginners, and top racers.
We have had a busy and challenging 30 years but the rewards outweigh all effort. Our customers have grown with us. They keep us on our toes, expecting the best in service and products yet supporting GW with humor, unique personalities, and their business.
To me, our thirtieth anniversary truly represents starting with a $4.99 first sale and ending with riches not measurable by a bank balance.
Visit us online at gearwest.com or stop by the Gear West of Long Lake, MN