When the fires started, the store went online

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Winthrop Mountain Sports have spent 40 years without needing to sell their outdoor equipment online. Even the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t changed homeowners’ plans. But the forest fires did.

Tourists flock to Winthrop, a short drive east of Seattle, to ski, hike, or cross a beautiful section of the Cascades. Like many outdoor recreation stores, sales at Winthrop mountain sports were strong during most of the pandemic.

Marine Bjornsen, one of the store owners and former elite biathlete and skier, told me that there had been no plans to sell products online now. “It’s something we wanted to do, but we didn’t think we were going to do it this year,” she said. “Then the fires came. “

In the past month, two large forest fires have Winthrop isolated from the world and suffocated the valley with smoke. The store remained open but didn’t sell much more than discount boots and shirts to firefighters. Sales fell about 80% in July compared to the same month in previous years, Bjornsen said.

Less than two weeks ago, Winthrop Mountain Sports started selling products on their website to reach customers who couldn’t or didn’t want to come to the store – slowly at first with a few types of items to see how that works. happened. This makes Winthrop Mountain Sports a test of what it’s like to start an ecommerce site in 2021, in the twin crises of a pandemic and wildfires.

One of the themes I keep coming back to is the nuanced way technology makes things both better and worse for business owners, a teacher, a rabbi, and the rest of us. Selling online offers Bjornsen new opportunities to grow his business, but it also imposes new burdens and puts his store in direct competition with everyone who sells outdoor gear on the internet, including giants like Amazon and REI. .

The good news is that starting an e-commerce site has never been easier. Stuck inside because of the unhealthy air, Bjornsen said she spends her time adding photos and product descriptions to the Winthrop Mountain Sports website.

It helped that the store was already using software from a company called Lightspeed to track inventory. If Bjornsen sold 10 pairs of hiking boots in the store, she wouldn’t mistakenly try to sell them online as well. It’s not complicated, no, but a lot of small business owners don’t have the time, money, or expertise to master the basics of technology.

Bjornsen said she and her employees are still learning how to run a store and an online business at the same time. For each online order, he must manually enter the weight and dimensions, affix a shipping label, and take the package out with UPS or another service. Bjornsen said she had dropped off a few orders herself at a delivery depot on the way home. She and her employees chat through questions with people who also want to order online.

Bjornsen said it was too early to know how the store’s finances could be affected if more of its sales moved in person to the web. “It’s a lot of work,” she says. “The margin will be less, but it’s better than not selling.

Selling online allows the store to reach customers in new ways and many people expect to be able to shop online, she said, but Winthrop Mountain Sports would not survive as an online-only store. “We have a store and a community around us,” she said.

Marine and Erik Bjornsen retired from skiing and moved from Alaska in December, after they and others bought Winthrop Mountain Sports from its longtime owner. To say the least, it was an unpredictable time to run a retail store for the first time.

“If we had the business for 10 years, then a summer doesn’t seem like a big deal,” she said. “You can be a little more balanced. But because we don’t have that, it’s a little stressful. Bjornsen said she hopes “we’ll have a good winter and forget about it”.


Tip of the week

With more and more companies requiring proof of vaccination against Covid-19, our mainstream tech columnist Brian X Chen explains the steps for saving a handy digital vaccination record on your phone:

Here in California, I recently requested my digital vaccination record from the california department of public health. (How to request one varies from state to state – check your health department’s website for instructions.)

After entering my information, I received an SMS with a link to a QR code, a kind of digital barcode, which contained the information on my vaccination record. From there I had to figure out the best way to store the barcode on my phone.

The quickest method, I concluded, was to take a screenshot of the recording and attach the image to a note. This way I could find my vaccination record with a keyword search or by scrolling through my notes app.

Here’s how to do it:

On iPhone:

  • When the image editing toolbar appears, tap the button in the upper right corner that looks like a square with an arrow pointing up. In the row of apps, swipe to the Notes app and select it. Here, save the image in a new note.

On Android phones:

(My colleague JD Biersdorfer has more tips for carrying proof of vaccine on a phone, and the Washington Post has another useful guide.)


  • Can’t wait to participate in a virtual reality business meeting? Mark Zuckerberg says you are. My colleague Mike Isaac tried and explained Facebook’s belief in virtual reality and other “technologies that make you feel like you’re there.”

  • Help inform Afghans, at risk to themselves: Rest of the world writing about a company called Ehtesab in Kabul that generates smartphone alerts to let people know about bomb attacks, roadblocks, power shortages and other issues. Founder Sara Wahedi is concerned that the nature of the service will make Ehtesab’s staff a target for Taliban crackdown.

  • How to prove an illegal monopoly? In June, a judge told the US government he had to prove that Facebook had a major stake in social media. The Federal Trade Commission reworked its antitrust lawsuit on Thursday, and my colleague Cecilia Kang notes that it can be difficult to apply U.S. laws to areas of technology where dominance isn’t necessarily easy to define.

Puppies in a cart! Puppies! In a cart!


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