More people have been heading into the woods for hiking, fishing, skiing and other activities during the novel coronavirus pandemic, and that’s been great news for mid-Willamette Valley stores specializing in outdoor gear.
After all, entertainment options are limited during the age of COVID-19, and outdoorsy adventures are seen as safe options, since they’re in the open air and close contact is limited.
“We’re definitely doing better than average,” said Troy Haselip, owner of Watershed Fly Shop, 200 N.W. Second St. in downtown Corvallis.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that there are more anglers and new people getting into fishing,” Haselip added.
Mitch Smith, owner of Two Rivers Fly Shop, 204 First Ave. W. in downtown Albany, said the pandemic has given people more free time.
“They can’t travel, and they can’t do the things they would normally do for their vacations, so various outdoor activities that have always been in the back of their minds, now they’re taking those up,” he said.
“A lot of people have discovered something that they really enjoy, that they never had time for before. Now they’re going to make time for it,” he added.
Besides newcomers, seasoned anglers are fishing more often in general, Haselip and Smith said. And that means loyal customers are stopping by their shops more frequently.
Like fly fishing, biking was a hobby where sales were flat before the pandemic. But bicycle sales shot up 76% during the last year, said Larry Desaulniers, owner of Peak Sports, which has an outdoors store, bike shop and used goods annex in downtown Corvallis.
The business has seen success in other categories, as well. Peak doubled its order of snowshoes for this winter, anticipating increased demand, but those were gone by December.
The general trend in the outdoors gear industry is that “hard goods,” such as bikes, tents, skis, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards, are doing well, Desaulniers said.
“Soft goods,” generally clothing, including shoes, are performing poorly during the pandemic, with exceptions such as technical base layers, trail running shoes and performance hiking boots, which are experiencing middling sales, he added.
Sales of casual clothes and fashionable footwear — things unnecessary to live out a Jack London novel — have absolutely cratered.
Peak Sports is a mixed business, with both soft and hard goods, but it still had a great year, Desaulniers said. He even opened up another used outdoor goods store in downtown Springfield.
Peak actually went into 2020 with more inventory than Desaulniers wanted, especially with bikes. But that turned into a blessing due to supply chain problems that arose during the pandemic.
Jason French, manager for Bike N Hike in Albany, 424 First Ave. W., said that with factories shutting down, problems with shipping and other factors, his store couldn’t meet the demand because it was difficult to get bicycles.
“So many people are riding right now,” French added. Bike N Hike also has a Corvallis location.
Tucker Kennedy, assistant manager for Big 5 Sporting Goods in Albany, 2280 Pacific Blvd. S.E., said he was having supply issues as well. “Most of the stuff that we’ve sold has actually been exercise equipment with everybody stuck at home,” Kennedy said.
Weights, such as dumbbells, have moved particularly quick and the store regularly is out of inventory. “We get trucks in once a week. It seems like the second we unload equipment, it’s out the door,” he added.
Outdoor gear sales at the Albany Big 5 have been steady, but not surged, Kennedy said, and perhaps that in itself is notable given the circumstances.
Some industries weren’t prepared for the increased demand the pandemic caused, Smith said. “You don’t realize how small they are. All of the sudden inventory’s out. They’re not geared for that many people,” he added.
With certain bike models, the next availability is 2022, Desaulniers said. Hard-shell watercraft are in the same boat, so to speak, but inflatables are more widely available, in part because they don’t take up as much warehouse space, so they’re far less expensive to store.
Watershed Fly Shop opened six years ago and moved to its downtown location last year, just before the pandemic hit. Haselip said increased foot traffic has given the business a boost, but he’s seeing different trends during the pandemic, as well.
Father and son fishing trips remain an integral part of the industry that’s a stereotype for a reason. Haselip, who grew up in the LaPine area in Central Oregon, learned to fish in little “cricks” under the watchful eye of his dad.
But more females are going out on guided trips offered by Watershed Fly Shop during the pandemic. “I love having ladies on my boat because they ask great questions and they pay attention. … They get better throughout the day,” Haselip said.
One of the reasons why fly fishing is seeing a surge during the pandemic is that it’s relatively inexpensive compared to other outdoors hobbies. Getting rod, reel and line costs about $200, and classes cost $65 each from Watershed Fly Shop.
Desaulniers said that some people who dipped their toes into the outdoors during the pandemic will be “one and done.” Others have created long-term habits.
“There are going to be a lot of people who it’s going to be a change in lifestyle,” he added.
Bike sales, for example, are expected to remain up 5% to 10% for the foreseeable future thanks to the pandemic.
That’s put increased pressure on popular recreation spots, such as Oregon State University’s McDonald-Dunn Research Forest, a popular mountain biking and hiking destination.
“On the weekend, it’s amazing how many people are out in the woods,” Desaulniers said. “It’s brought a lot of newbies, and that brings challenges.”
Concerns about resources getting abused, such as secluded camping spots becoming overrun with litter, are genuine, he said.
“Without a doubt, there’s going to be a long-lasting impact,” Desaulniers said.
Kyle Odegard can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter via @KyleOdegard.