An old ice pick, a vintage pair of cross-country skis and a wood-framed Trapper backpack hang high on the wall of Sonoma Outfitters, a testament to the years the Santa Rosa shop has been in business and the changes it has undergone to adapt with the times.
The kitschy throwbacks, relics from co-owner Jay Knick's backcountry adventures from Connecticut to Colorado to California, are a contrast to the high-tech outdoor gear and clothing he stocks on the store's shelves.
Now, the shop that gradually expanded into a lofty store and warehouse space with more than 14,000 square feet in Railroad Square is adapting again by downsizing. The store will move to Montgomery Village to a space roughly half its current size May 1.
Competition from online retailers and big-box stores chipped away at the retailer's bottom line to the point where it no longer made sense to have the huge store, said Knick, who owns Sonoma Outfitters with his wife, Debra.
"It's time to change. It's time to adapt," Jay Knick said. "And that's what we've been doing over the last 37 years."
The store needs more foot traffic than what the Railroad Square location provides, and David Codding, owner of Montgomery Village, has been courting Sonoma Outfitters for a while, Knick said.
So Sonoma Outfitters is doing away with what has been a core part of its business — equipment sales and rentals — in favor of clothing and shoes, which are quicker to move off the shelves.
It's not that Knick, a self-professed "tech weenie," doesn't love gear. But with increasing competition from online retailers and shoppers who surf the Web for the best deals, selling and renting equipment that people would buy maybe once a decade was no longer penciling out. The store will continue to sell day packs, but not the bigger equipment like kayaks and sleeping bags.
Customers have been supportive of the store's plans to move to Montgomery Village, but some were unhappy to see the gear go, Knick said.
"But I say, &‘Come on, when's the last time you bought a pack from me, or a tent?'" Knick asked.
The fact that pressure from online retailers contributed to the decision to downsize is a turn of events for Sonoma Outfitters, which was an early entrant to the online retail scene.
The store opened its first 600-square-foot store at Mendocino Avenue and Cherry Street in 1978. It moved to ever-larger spaces until it landed in its current Third Street location. At its peak in the 1990s, the store spanned about 23,000 square feet, Knick said.
"That was the '90s, and everyone was busy back then," Knick said.
An early adapter to technology, Knick bought the store's first computer in 1988 and started its website a decade later.
In the early 2000s, about half the company's sales revenue came from the store's website, Knick said.
"For years, that really kept us going," he said.
Back then, manufacturers like Marmot and Columbia Sports offered retailers "buy buttons" on their websites. Instead of selling products directly to consumers through their own websites, the manufacturers had "buttons" that were essentially links to retailers, including Sonoma Outfitters.
"There were probably 10 shops with buy buttons," Knick said. "We're talking REI, L.L. Bean, big companies, people that had multiple stores. And I was up there with them."