Recreation enthusiasts want customers to ‘have fun’
The new owners of Cascades Outdoor Store, Carlin Thompson and Chas Savage, have been visiting the Methow Valley for years, but it was a particularly good Nordic skiing trip to the valley last winter that made them say to themselves, “We have to move here. Let’s figure out how to do that.”
They didn’t have to figure long. “It happened really quickly,” Savage said. “As a business, the Cascades Outdoor Store matches our skillset and our background. And suddenly it was for sale.”
Savage and Thompson took possession of the store on Sept. 26, purchasing it from Amy and Brian Sweet, who opened the business in 2014.
Both Savage and Thompson have a long history working in outdoor industries. They worked at the Mt. Baker Ski Area until 1994, when they left the Bellingham area to run the Galena Lodge, a private enterprise on U.S. Forest Service land near Ketchum, Idaho. At the lodge Savage and Thompson operated concessions, backcountry yurts, youth adventure camps, recreational day use, weddings and other events.
Later, the couple relocated to Bend, Oregon, where they worked in various capacities at the Mount Bachelor Ski Area, with Savage first running the Nordic center and then transitioning to Director of Hospitality. Thompson also worked at the Pine Mountain Sports retail store.
“We looked at a couple of businesses in the valley,” Savage said, “but we didn’t really have the right background for them. Cascades Outdoor Store was a good fit.”
Since buying the store, Savage said, “It’s been a whirlwind. We’ve been drinking from the fire hose.”
“The other business owners in Winthrop have been very friendly and helpful,” Thompson said. “We are just so happy to be here, in this beautiful place, in such a welcoming town.”
When the Sweets founded the store in 2014, they met a similarly welcoming reception from other business owners and community members. No strangers to the local community, the Sweets moved to the Methow Valley in 2002 and a year later purchased Trail’s End Bookstore, which they sold in 2009.
The Sweets’ first seven years in the Methow Valley were bracketed by outdoor adventures: a canoe trip down the Yukon River, and a bike trip across the U.S. followed immediately by another from Portugal to Ukraine. After revitalizing a small bakery in New Hampshire for 18 months, the Sweets hiked the Appalachian Trail — Brian’s second thru-hike of the trail — before moving back to the Methow Valley in 2013. “Our life seems to be a pattern of adventure,” Brian Sweet said.
Others who love adventures are exactly who Savage and Thompson seek to serve through Cascades Outdoor Store. “One of our core goals is getting people outside and getting them to have fun,” Savage said. “We’ve always focused on that.”
“We love the gear and the technology,” Savage said, “but really fundamentally it’s about getting people outdoors.”
Savage and Thompson themselves are avid outdoors people, and plan to hike, walk their dogs, mountain bike, Nordic and Alpine ski, and paddleboard as much as possible once the running of the store becomes more routine. In the meantime, they’re enjoying helping others derive pleasure from outdoor pursuits. “It seems like a lot of people discovered recreation during COVID,” Thompson said. “It’s our hope that these new users of the outdoors will become advocates for it too.”
The Sweets’ agreement with Savage and Thompson includes a period of overlap, after which the Sweets are headed off on another adventure. “We love being self-propelled for long distances,” Brian Sweet says. “Whether the next year is doing that in a sailboat, by foot, or bicycle, or unicycle — we’ll see. But the fun thing for us is to do something scary: starting a business where you can lose everything … or a long expedition where the opportunity for failure is high.”
Savage and Thompson look forward to maintaining the retail products and equipment rentals at Cascades Outdoor Store in a similar manner to the Sweets. “We don’t plan to change things drastically,” Thompson said. “Brian and Amy ran a very successful business here; why upset the cart? The products we carry will reflect what’s important to the community.”
Both Savage and Thompson plan to spend time up front in the store, as well as in the office. “So much of the fun of the business is being up front and talking to people,” Thompson said. “We want people to come into the store and introduce themselves, tell us what you like to do outside and what gear you’d like to see in the store.”
“We just hope that people will continue to welcome us into the community,” Thompson continued. “We want to do right by everyone.”