Long Awaited REI Soho Opens

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Reaching the great outdoors in Downtown Manhattan

By Kristina Diggins-Reisinger

Walking up from the subway at Broadway and Lafayette St., I first checked hop stop to see where the heck I was going. But when I caught sight of the historic red-brick Puck Building I knew I was in the right place, and the long line of people that stretched around the four-block perimeter of the building only confirmed my suspicions. It was clear to me by then that I had unknowingly walked into something that was, for many, a very big deal.

Caption: The crowd waiting for the REI Soho to open this morning.

This morning, Friday, Dec. 2, was the opening day of Recreational Equipment, Inc (REI)'s Soho store. Before the doors opened, employees showed off their latest wares and gadgets to the patient crowd. One eager shopper, Sonya Mills, described REI as "the best outdoor apparel store," but says that the retailer "has always been hard to access on the east coast." Before the opening of REI Soho the nearest location was in Paramus, New Jersey-quite a hike for New Yorkers, especially those like Mills who rely on public transportation. Another shopper, Kristie Hemming, said "If you go rock climbing or do any outdoor winter sport, you know REI." But perhaps others were lured by the promise of giveaways: the first 200 people through the doors received a limited-edition CamelBak water bottle with $5, $10, $25, $50 or $100 REI gift card inside.

I was surprised by the chanting and wooting that ensued as workers opened the tall glass double doors for the first time, but that was nothing compared to the red carpet style parade that took place as customers stepped into the store. The spiral staircase running down the center of the all-brick interior sent my fellow shoppers and myself into a purchasing frenzy in the basement-floor shopping area. Passing through an aisle of employees cheering and clapping in a show of customer appreciation I felt borderline embarrassed, but had to admire their gusto.

REI Soho boasts the finest in camping, hiking, cycling, climbing, skiing and travel gear inside a 39,000-square-foot, three-level, 127-year-old building that once housed the world's largest lithographic presswork. The space was transformed from a raw, industrial and historic location to an outdoorsy adventurer's paradise with remaining pieces of the old time architecture kept intact like wide open spaces and metal piping running throughout the store.

On the sales floor, I was caught somewhere between being a writer trying to pick up on the quirks of the space and a crazed woman with a fire for shopping in her blood, snatching up snow hats and finger-less gloves like my life was at stake. The more I looked around at my comrades, manically grabbing at ear muffs and canteens, the more certain I became that every last one of my family members was in dire need of a scarf or fleece jacket. 30 minutes and $200 later I was face to face with a team full of cashiers who seemed friendly and eight open registers that made for a quick and painless check-out.

Customers received a calendar of classes, held in various tri-state REI locations, ranging from introduction to cross country skiing and Appalachian trail training hikes to sunset photography and outdoor yoga. The calendar also advertised a slew of weekend getaways as well as community events ranging from ice climbing in the Catskills to the Christmas Day marathon in NYC.

If you are ready to launch into a new outdoor activity or advance in one you already know and love REI has everything you need from gear to training. Get into REI so you can get outside this winter.

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