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REI plans to open its first New Hampshire store next September in what is currently the location of the Eastern Mountain Sports store at Settlers Crossing in North Conway, EMS, which has been at that location since 2005, will move to the former Polo Ralph Lauren space at 1675 White Mountain Highway in North Conway. (JAMIE GEMMITI PHOTO)

CONWAY — It’s official: Outdoor retailer REI plans to open its first New Hampshire store in 2019 in a nearly 25,000-square-foot storefront at Settlers Crossing in North Conway.

Rival recreational outfitter Eastern Mountain Sports is leaving that space at 1498 White Mountain Highway next January to move up to the former Polo Ralph Lauren space at 1675 White Mountain Highway.

REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.) hopes to open in North Conway by September 2019. It will join eight other REI stores in New England, including four in Massachusetts, three in Connecticut and one in Rhode Island.

“I couldn’t be any more excited by this news,” said Robert Barsamian, president of OVP Management, owners of Settlers Green, which is leasing the site at Settlers Crossing to the Seattle-based REI.

“REI provides second-to-none service in a retail environment, and the cooperative component makes everyone feel they are part of the store. Along with the community involvement and programming, that will be huge for us," he said.

"This really establishes us of being on the outdoor world map," Barsamian added in a phone interview from his Newton, Mass., office. "It sends a strong message that our community is well-thought of, and they wanted to be part of it — this will be one of their iconic stores. So we are fortunate — we couldn’t be happier.”

Barsamian said REI signed the lease last month and soon will start transforming the interior of the store.

“They want to take the space there at Settlers Crossing and really make it their own,” said Barsamian.

Acording to Dot Seybold, general manager of OVP Management, “REI's dedication to the brand by its customers is legendary, and we believe REI will contribute greatly to the outdoor community in North Conway.” 

In a statement issued Thursday by REI, the company said the North Conway store will be its first in New Hampshire as well as the cooperative-owned company’s first outdoor experience center.

The company said the store will feature “expansive gear rentals, high-end equipment demos and guided outdoor experiences.”

According to Wikipedia, REI was founded in 1938 by Lloyd and Mary Anderson as a co-operative to offer inexpensive climbing gear. It now boasts revenue of $2.38 billion and has 17 million members. Its former CEO, Sally Jewell (2005-13) was tapped by former President Barack Obama, to serve as Secretary of the Interior from 2013-17.

“As the gateway to the White Mountains, North Conway is the perfect community to unveil the co-op’s newest retail format, which will focus on outdoor experiences,” said Rachel Ligtenberg, REI vice president of retail.

“We are continuing to shape this new store format, with the goal of becoming the one-stop shop for every kind of adventurer. From the seasoned expert who owns their own gear to the family looking to spend the day trying something new, REI North Conway will be a launching pad for outdoor activities in the White Mountains,” Ligtenberg's statement said.

While the North Conway location will be the co-op’s first in the state, REI says it has nearly 53,000 members in New Hampshire and offers guided multiday and single-day outdoor trips in the White Mountains.

REI also has supported trail work in the White Mountain National Forest. Through a grant provided to the National Forest Foundation, the company helped fund trail improvements in 2018 along the Crawford Path, the oldest, continuously used mountain trail in the United States.

According to REI, prior to the store’s opening, the co-op will look for additional ways to invest in New Hampshire’s outdoor community.

“The White Mountains are New England’s outdoor playground with year-round activities like skiing, hiking, mountain biking and snowshoeing,” said Becky Smith, REI retail director for the Northeast district.

 “We look forward to providing our customers throughout New England with the gear and expertise they need to get outside, while also investing in the outdoor spaces that make the White Mountains special.”

The company, which operates REI Adventures and the REI Outdoor School, expects to hire 55 employees in North Conway.

For 21 consecutive years, REI has been recognized as one of Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

Candidates interested in joining the REI team at any local store can apply online at REI.com/jobs.

As for EMS, its company spokesman Kevin Campbell of Meriden, Conn., told the Sun earlier that its lease at Settlers Crossing expires Jan. 31, 2019. EMS is leasing the former Polo property with an option to buy, Campbell said.

The space that EMS is moving into measures 8,292 square feet.

“It’s an opportunity for us to own our own real estate so we entered into a lease with an option to purchase,” Campbell said. “We have been in (the North Conway) marketplace for 45 years, and we love our customers there, and they seem to love us. We look forward to being there for many years to come."

EMS had leased the timber-and-glass-fronted store in SettlersCrossing since it was built in 2005-06.

The Settlers Crossing complex was designed by Prelwitz Chillinski Associates of Cambridge, Mass. That firm also designed Settlers Green Streetside, Settlers Green’s latest complex, and is also the designer of its planned Market Basket store to be built adjacent to Streetside.

The former Polo store has sat vacant since Polo Ralph Lauren moved across Route 16 to Settlers Green Streetside in September 2017.

EMS sells outdoor equipment and clothing from both name brands and its own EMS line. The company also has EMS Schools that offer classes in rock and ice climbing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, trekking and skiing.

EMS’ North Conway store was originally located in what is now International Mountain Equipment on Main Street in North Conway Village in the early 1970s. It then moved to the bottom floor of the Eastern Slope Inn in the early 1980s before moving to Settlers Crossing.

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