MILLINOCKET, Maine — Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll notice something different the next time you drive through Millinocket on your way to the Maine woods or Baxter State Park.
Maine Woods Gear is a new storefront business that sells hiking, camping and backpacking equipment. Owner Brad Viles of Ellsworth, known to Bangor Daily News readers as the freelancer who writes about hiking, has taken a side trail in his employment career and stepped into the retail business.
At 62, after working 20 years in the manufacturing business, he opted out on April 1 and set out to open a store catering to his and other hikers’ likes.
The store is located in the center of Millinocket in the North Light Gallery building on the corner of Penobscot Avenue and Central Street at 256C Penobscot Ave. This weekend Viles is holding an open house and a “less-than-grand” opening, he said.
“I’d like to say that I always wanted to open a hiking store, but I’d be lying. Until Marsha Donahue, the owner of the gallery, told me she had the perfect spot, I never really thought about opening a store,” he said.
“Once I took a look at the space, I knew this would be the best fit for a store. If the key to a successful business is location, this could be a great one,” he said. At first Millinocket may not seem like a good choice for a hiking-centered business. The region has suffered economically lately with paper mill closures and some businesses folding, leaving empty storefronts. But Viles said he sees an opportunity.
“The interest in the outdoors is growing,” he said, “and especially in this area. Also, there’s no place in town that carries a complete line of hiking accessories like I do.”
Some of the items he carries are what you expect — trailside coffee presses, stoves, first aid kits and packs. But Viles’ stock also includes several ultralight hiking supplies. “The stoves we sell are the latest in ultralight backpacking, with one alcohol stove made by Vargo weighing 2.5 ounces,” he said.
Stoves aren’t the only ultralight products that line the shelves and racks of the store. “I have several packs from Vaude and Equinox. The Equinox pack, called the Katahdin, is a 3,000 cubic inch pack that weighs 2.5 pounds,” he said.
While the store stock features lots of ultralight packing equipment; tarps, trekking poles, first aid kits, mesh stuff sacks and fanny packs, there also are more traditional items. You’ll find bandannas, Sporks, headlamps, blister treatment, camp soap, guidebooks, maps and field guides, Viles said.
He said he carries some 150 lines of items, he said. “I really had to shop the vendors to find the best deal for my customers’ money. Most of the goods retail for under $40,” he said. “The most expensive item I carry is the Katahdin backpack at $140.” He said his strategy is to obtain merchandise that satisfy the list of 10 essential items that hikers should carry to be safe on the trails. “I started building my inventory from the 10 essentials, then expanded that out to the other goods,” he said.
According to Wikipedia, “the ‘Ten Essentials’ were first described in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a hiking and mountain climbing club. Many regional organizations and authors recommend that hikers, backpackers and climbers rigorously ensure they have the 10 essentials with them. However, many expert hikers do not always carry all the items.”
The 10 essentials are considered to be: a map, compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra food and water, extra clothes, headlamp and-or flashlight, first aid kit, fire starter, matches and a knife.
The textbook “Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills” recommends supplementing this list with a water treatment device, repair kit, insect repellent, a signaling device and a tarp.
Right now, Viles doesn’t carry boots or apparel beyond rain gear. “If my customers say they want boots, then I’ll source them. I plan on surveying the people who walk in and responding to what they want by carrying it. This time of year they want bug dope, head nets and rain gear. I’ve got lots of those items,” he said.
Maine Woods Gear should be around for a long time if the welcome he has received in town is any indication, Viles said. “Everyone in town tells me that it’s something that’s been needed here. The town folks I’ve met while I’ve been setting up the store have all been very supportive,” he said.
The next time you visit the Katahdin region, stop in and look around, Viles said. “I’d love to see you. You don’t have to buy anything. I’ve got the cribbage board set up. Stop in and play a game. If business is slow, I’ll play you.”
While that may be a standing invitation, he said, he hopes he won’t have to be playing cribbage very much.
For more information call 447-4039 or 1-855-812-5204, or visit the store’s Facebook page. Maine Woods Gear is open Thursday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.