A shopping experience guide for anyone planning their next Centre County adventure. Through interviewing a dedicated employee and passionate shopper, you’ll gain perspective from multiple lenses while walking through Appalachian Outdoors with me.
After living in State College for nearly 21 years, I can confidently say that in order to truly get the most out of your visit you must experience the natural beauty of Happy Valley. Filled with scenic hiking trails, winding bike paths, wooded camping grounds, calm waters, rocky climbs, and some of the State’s most beautiful views, there is an enjoyable outdoor activity for anyone. To capitalize on your next Centre County adventure, I recommend checking out the locally owned and operated shop in the heart of downtown State College – Appalachian Outdoors.
Allen Street is home to some of Happy Valley’s best shopping and restaurants including the one and only Appalachian Outdoors. Specializing in providing the highest quality outdoor activity equipment, products, and apparel, Appalachian Outdoors is sure to have everything you need for your next Centre County adventure. Whether you’re planning to camp, climb, hike, bike, or ski, you’ll be able to find the essentials that’ll make your experience that much more enjoyable.
Small businesses truly give a town or city character, and they can paint a picture of local life to an outsider: Appalachian Outdoors is no exception. Opening its doors in 1974, Appalachian Outdoors has been serving the Centre County community with an extensive selection of the highest quality outdoor gear. They carry Patagonia, The North Face, Colombia, Camelbak, Burton and many more trusted name brands. Supporting small businesses is essential to any local economy, so this is where I like to start my search for my next adventure focused to find. To give you the raw shopping experience, I recently walked through the store myself to provide the truest customer perspective.
As you enter from the street, a sense of awaiting adventure overcomes you as you sift through their massive amounts of inventory strategically placed on strategic and realistic displays. The wooden and rugged yet clean interior sets the tone for outdoor shopping. When browsing you will be sure to find assistance from employees walking around often sporting the brands sold in-store, so you know you are in the best of hands.
Reflecting on my most memorable experience at Appalachian Outdoors, I’m reminded of the time I was searching for a new hammock. After searching various brands and reading reviews online, I gave up on trying to find something on Amazon and went into the store for some professional guidance. After mentioning to the store clerk that I was searching for a hammock, her face lit up with a smile, and told me she bought one the other week and it was the best decision she’s made in a long time. She walked me over to their collection of Eno hammocks to give an in-store demo. It was hard to believe at first, but this hammock could practically fit in your back pocket. She unwrapped the hammock and walked me through how to attach the straps and gave advice on the best places to set it up. Whether I was on a hike or in my backyard, all I needed was a couple of trees and I was set. If you couldn’t already tell I was immediately sold, and I still use the hammock regularly today.
From my most recent trip, I was assisted by Jacob where he helped me find a new reusable water bottle. After explaining my needs and purpose for usage, he directed me to the store's collection of Hydro Flasks where I found the perfect fit for me. While I had Jacob’s attention, I wanted to pick his brain about life on the job at an outdoor shop.
Jacob also grew up in State College, and he mentioned that this is the perfect job for him since he knows the area so well. This was an opportunity for him to understand the operations behind a local small business. He mentioned that the flexible working schedule and relationships between him and his co-workers motivate him to continue working at Appalachian Outdoors. In a normal setting, you will typically find 6-7 employees working on the floor, but recently due to COVID-19 and decreased capacity there are between 2-3 employees ready to assist customers. Jacob commented, “I like being able to connect with my co-workers but also each customer that visits the store. I think giving them a natural shopping experience and listening to their needs is important to keep in mind while selling.”
After a year and a half on the job, Jacob has developed some serious skills for selling all types of footwear. Ranging from running shoes to hiking boots, he knows the ins and outs of making a sale special and memorable for the customer regardless of age. Jacob mentioned, “Yesterday I actually helped a three-year-old find a new pair of shoes. That’s what I love about the job – I have the opportunity to help customers ranging from toddlers to others approaching their 90’s. There’s really something here for everyone”.
I was curious to see whether or not Jacob shopped there personally, and he assured me that Appalachian Outdoors is a go-to for all his outdoor needs. He added, “I just bought a backpack here for my hiking trip planned for this weekend. I realized I needed one and it’s really convenient to work at a place that carries so many options.” On the topic of shopping, I asked for his favorite in-store brand, and Jacob told me he’s a Patagonia enthusiast, but they also carry a neat brand he enjoys sporting called Free Fly; a company that makes apparel sourced from bamboo.
Being an outdoors store, Appalachian Outdoors carries a lot of seasonal gear and apparel, which leads to fluctuations in particular sales throughout the year. When asked what popular selling items were, Jacob responded with, “It’s neat because the majority of the products we sell have their own season. For instance, right now our skiing gear sales are really ramping up just in time for winter.” Offering products for each season helps this unique small business balance sales throughout the calendar year.
Regarding being a locally owned and operated small business, Jacob mentioned how important community outreach is to the organization, and being in an ideal central location makes participation easy. Appalachian Outdoors celebrates First Night with the rest of downtown State College on New Year’s Eve by having a live mannequin display along with their sizable storefront sporting in-store brands. On this particular night, Allen Street is blocked off from all traffic and is lined with a dozen or so ice sculptures to celebrate the first night of the new year. As summarized by Jacob, “While business is always important, we also like to be viewed as a gathering place and we usually host 1-2 events per month. One of my favorites was a book signing we hosted with Joe Humphreys”.
Appalachian Outdoors keeps the community up to speed on their events partially through posting on their company blog, which can be found on their website. Not only do they post about events the store hosts, but they also share posts about local hiking trails and other outdoor adventures you can find around the county. My personal favorite is, “Meet the Musser Gap Trail,” where they walk through three ways to attack the trail: by hiking, biking, or running. Conveniently embedding the company blog into their website provides online shoppers with a sense of company culture when they don’t have a chance to visit the physical store for an in-person shopping experience.
Wrapping up our conversation, for my last question I asked Jacob to give a piece of advice to a first time Appalachian Outdoors customer. His tip for the first timer was to simply come into the store with an open mind. He mentioned that some people come into the store with a very specific item in mind, but they leave with something even better than they thought. On the other hand, he has seen customers walk in with uncertainty and leaving with the perfect product with a smile on their face. I appreciated this perspective, as I believe this can help ease the stress shopping might put on a customer, and I can testify that the customer service you’ll find at Appalachian Outdoors will leave you satisfied.
While I shop at Appalachian Outdoors occasionally, I wanted to give the perspective from a very frequent shopper as well. Lucky for me, my direct roommate finds himself shopping routinely at Appalachian Outdoors at least once or twice a month.
Tejas Wein, a Penn State student, and fellow State College townie shared his shopping experiences with me as well. In his free time, he travels around the country with his family to famous hiking and skiing locations, making him a perfect customer for Appalachian Outdoors. His main motivations for continuing to shop at Appalachian Outdoors include unmatched and individualized customer service, an extensive selection of quality brands, and the fact that he can support a local small business. He stated, “The nice thing about Appalachian Outdoors is that I can find things there that I could easily find online, but if I’m making a purchase, I value having an expert guide me through my shopping experience. They also offer price matching, which is great, but I would be willing to pay more anyways for the level of service you get.”
In addition to hiking and skiing equipment, Tejas loves shopping for Patagonia and The North Face apparel. He mentioned, “As I said before, I could easily find these clothes online, but I’m the type of person who likes to try on or test out whatever I’m buying before I make the purchase, especially for clothing. For me, that’s another true benefit of an in-person shopping experience.”
When I think about what I look for in a shopping experience, I’m searching for a wide selection of inventory, durable and high-quality products, and excellent customer service – and I don’t think I stand alone. Highlighted through these personal interviews, the effort put forth by Appalachian Outdoors meets these desires to truly create a memorable visit for customers, hoping to see them return in the near future. By opening up their spot on Allen Street not only for outdoor adventure shopping but also as a gathering place for various community-wide events, shows how small businesses help build strong culture and character for a town like State College.
Coming from a true townie, before you head over to Centre County for your next adventure whether you’re hiking Mount Nittany, trailing through Musser Gap, or skiing at Tussey Mountain, be sure to stop in Appalachian Outdoors to find exactly what you need to enjoy every minute.
Written by Luke Hurley
Edited by Lexie Hosterman