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OH, GO CLIMB A ROCK

Climbing rock at REI REI Flagship Store
Seattle

Client
Recreational Equipment Inc.

Architect
Mithun Partners

Building Type
Retail

Award Category
Private sector, over $25 million


There aren't too many stores with mountaineering pickaxes as handles on the front doors. Or rock-strewn paths for testing out boots, much less gigantic indoor climbing rocks. Recreational Equipment Inc.'s (REI) new flagship store in Seattle is the latest in the trend toward using architecture to create an exciting themed retail environment.

With annual sales of $500 million from 46 stores and a strong catalog business, REI turned to Mithun Partners Inc. to give it more pizzazz against the discounters and retail giants crowding its turf. Several of Mithun's architects, themselves old REI members, encouraged the co-op to build on its culture of educating customers and made a ''try as you buy'' philosophy central to the store's design. Hence, a ''rain room'' to try on wet-weather gear. People love to hang out in the cafe, sit by the huge fireplace, try out gear--and buy stuff.

The building draws people off the freeway with the glass-enclosed climbing rock, lit up at night, acting as a beacon for customers. Sales and profits are up strongly, thanks to the new flagship store. REI is applying the concept to a new store in Bloomington, Minn., where it is recycling an old Kmart building. Since it's Minnesota, don't be surprised to find a cross-country ski course.



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