As Dillon’s Wilderness Sports prepares to close March 31, owners Lucy Hedrick and JT Greene are reflecting on the store’s 46-year run.
Hedrick and Greene, alongside co-owners Sean Gatzen and Emily Messegee, announced the store’s upcoming closure earlier this week. Wilderness Sports originally opened in 1976, just six years after nearby Keystone Resort held its first opening day.
As outdoor recreation bloomed into a multibillion-dollar industry, the store adapted, selling everything from ski and snowboard gear to guns and ammo, Hedrick said. Throughout it all, the store’s owners maintained a focus on being local and accessible for people who were new to adventurous activities.
“Our biggest priority has just been education and community,” Hedrick said. “We have really worked hard to make this a place where not only are you going to get the gear that you need, but you are going to find partners to go out and ski with and bike with. You’re going to make friends. You’re going to get the education that you need.”
Hedrick, Greene, Gatzen and Messegee have owned the store for the past four years. In that time, they’ve watched as larger big-box retailers moved into Summit County, taking up the outdoor retailer space.
Although stores like REI and Columbia presented new competition for Wilderness Sports, Hedrick said the store was initially able to adapt by focusing on backcountry gear and education. Even during the pandemic, the store saw a renewed interest in backcountry skiing as the resorts shut down.
However, recent supply chain issues changed that. In the past few months, the store has consistently faced backlogged orders, inventory being left at shipping docks because of staffing shortages and inflated costs for items.
“There’s this increased demand for outdoor gear right now, but the supply is really dwindling,” Hedrick said. “Overhead costs just keep going up, and the availability of inventory keeps going down.”
The store tried to adapt by offering faster service and keeping a small staff, but ultimately the cost of inventory issues became too overwhelming to keep the store open any longer, Greene said.
On top of it all, the store started to compete more with e-commerce retailers as people became accustomed to shopping online for their gear during the pandemic.
“We’re seeing more and more customers coming in with products we carry — boots, bindings, skis — that we’re doing the mounts on that customers purchased online at full price,” Greene said.
The store’s location at 701 East Anemone Trail is up for sale or for rent. Hedrick said she’d like to see it go to a local business, where profits ultimately support the community at large.
Hedrick added that she’d like for Wilderness Sports customers to support other locally owned outdoor retailers.
“When you buy something from a local business, you are helping your neighbor earn a living; you are helping your friend earn a living,” Hedrick said. “A lot of these local businesses are going to be way more invested in the well-being of the community and the nonprofits in their community and the programs that are offered than any big corporation.”
The store is hosting its closing sale throughout March with continued discounts as the month goes on. Hedrick and Greene asked that customers be patient with the store’s staff as they’ve been slammed with business since announcing the store’s closure.
The owners plan to continue renovating the upstairs space of the building into three condos that will eventually be available to rent or purchase.