Welcome to the “outdoor Rodeo Drive”

Pearl Street has finally peaked as mecca for outdoor enthusiasts.

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Tayler Carlisle

This summer, a new (yet familiar) sheriff settled into town: the outdoor recreation industry has officially set up shop on Pearl Street, and it’s looking to stay a while. As the pandemic induced a churning of businesses closing and opening downtown, a handful of new outdoor gear stores moved into Boulder’s iconic pedestrian shopping artery, joining about a dozen other outdoors-focused shops that’ve been slowly populating the cobbled street over the last couple years.

Pearl Street “is sort of becoming the outdoor Rodeo Drive,” Scott Crabtree, who focuses on commercial real estate along Pearl Street and Boulder County with The Colorado Group, told 5280 Magazine.

Need hiking boots? An expedition-weight puffy? A trail-running skirt? Climbing shoes? New flannels? A craft beer to go with that? And a carabiner to hold your life together? 

Look no further than the tulip-lined Pearl Street. And while it’s recently become a concentrated mecca for outdoor recreation commerce, providing a one-stop shopping experience for customers both local and visiting, it’s a place that’s been steeping in adventure culture for decades. The nearby Flatirons, access to Rocky Mountain National Park, Mount Sanitas looming overhead, and its proximity to the Boulder Creek Path have made Pearl Street a natural crossroads for all sorts of adventurers. 

As such, long-standing tenants like Patagonia, Montbell and Fjallraven have made their case for Pearl Street as home — other brands like Norrona, The North Face, Helly Hansen and Title Nine have more recently moved in and fortified the adventure commerce community. Still, not everyone weathered the pandemic. Colorado’s beloved Topo Designs shut its Pearl Street doors (but you can still find them in Denver). 

Among the new crop of stores, many chose Boulder as their first foray outside of their headquarter locations — telling of Boulder as a strong, yet still-growing adventure market.

Backcountry, for example, a historically online-only retail shop based in Utah, is creating a 2,000-square-foot store on East Pearl. Down the street, Black Diamond Equipment, a mountain sports outfitter also from Utah, chose Boulder as its first non-outlet location. A few more blocks down, Stio, a Wyoming-based adventure apparel company, opened its second storefront. Over at the 29th Street Mall, Vuori set up shop for the first time outside of its native California. 

Gear shops are nothing new to Boulder, however. Outside of Pearl Street, Neptune Mountaineering in the Table Mesa Shopping Center has been a locally owned, community-driven retail force for nearly 50 years. Its 2018 store makeover brought in a cafe and expanded its retail and gear-servicing space. (Check Neptune’s calendar for epic presentations and public talks by locally and nationally renowned adventurers.) Across town, off North Broadway, the Boulder Sports Recycler provides top-notch outdoor gear consignment. Shop here for the best deals on gear — plus, buying second-hand is the most environmentally friendly way to acquire new-to-you gear. Bring them any outdoor gear you no longer use, and they’ll sell it for you (for a small consignment fee). 

New or old, all these retailers are tapping into the growing and vibrant multi-billion-dollar industry of outdoor recreation. Headquartered in Boulder, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) is a trade organization for the outdoor industry, and they estimate the outdoor recreation industry contributes more than $12 billion a year to Colorado’s economy. In collaboration with members, the OIA represents and supports the industry in recreation and trade policy, sustainable business innovation and increasing outdoor participation. 

In OIA’s 2021 “Outdoor Participation Trends Report,” it highlighted the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on outdoor recreation: “In 2020, 53% of Americans ages 6 and over participated in outdoor recreation at least once, the highest participation rate on record. As the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged communities and forced a nationwide shutdown, outdoor spaces became places of refuge to safely socialize, improve physical and mental health, connect with family and recover from screen fatigue. Remarkably, 7.1 million more Americans participated in outdoor recreation in 2020 than in the year prior. Despite these gains, nearly half of the U.S. population did not share in the proven, positive health outcomes of outdoor physical activity.”

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, 92% of Coloradans participate in some form of outdoor activity at least once every few weeks and 69% recreate between one and four times per week. All forecasts indicate these numbers will continue to grow. So Pearl Street, here we come. 

Fredrik Marmsater Aidan Goldie and Zoe Rom trail running in the Elks, near Aspen, CO

The outdoor industry has large and varied impacts on Colorado. 

According to the Outdoor Industry Association and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the outdoor recreation economy generates:

  • 149,000 direct jobs 
  • 7,400 companies
  • $6.4 billion in wages and salaries
  • $12.2 billion in “Total Outdoor Recreation Value Added” (consists of the gross output of an industry less its intermediate inputs; the contribution of an industry to gross domestic product [GDP]).
  • 3.1% share of the state’s GDP
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