Meet Your Merchant: Alpenglow Sports – preserving the legacy at Tahoe’s oldest mountain retail shop
TAHOE CITY, Calif. – It’s not a business venture for the bourgeois or uninspired, and it’s not a retail shop based on raking in revenue.Rather, it’s a livelihood built around a lifestyle. It requires employees to possess a high level of outdoor expertise. It’s a place where buyers and sellers share a common interest. It’s about nourishing the people’s passion for mountain life.”Not only have we been around for a few decades, but we’re a staff of user experts, we’re up every morning before work, skiing in the backcountry at four to five a.m., we’re going on climbing trips and other expeditions,” said Brendan Madigan, owner of Alpenglow Sports in Tahoe City. “It’s rare that you walk into a mountain shop and get that kind of expertise by someone living that lifestyle, but who’s also there to provide a service.”In 1979, Alpenglow Sports opened its doors on Highway 28 in Tahoe City under the ownership of Don Fyfe – a true mountain man who believed in his mission and wanted to create a unique, specialty shop dedicated to the outdoor sports he revered most.”Don was one of the original pioneers to create a mountain shop, which has lasted over three decades – almost as long as I’ve been alive,” Madigan said. In December 2011, after 30-plus years of ownership, Fyfe handed over his life’s work to Madigan – a tall, lanky guy with long, strawberry blonde hair and an honest, humble disposition.Madigan began working at the retail shop in 2003 as a part-time staff member, part-time ski bum. He’s held onto the ski-bum title, but progressed into management over the last five years when he really learned the ropes of the business. “Don was definitely my mentor,” Madigan said. “He taught me to have humility, to see the strengths in people and not their weaknesses, he had the insight to let people run with their strengths as oppose to micromanaging them and he helped me understand this small business environment.”As the oldest full-service Nordic, backcountry, mountaineering and climbing shop in the Tahoe Basin, Madigan doesn’t foresee changing much with the business model, and plans to continue the traditions established by Fyfe early on, particularly as it relates to community involvement.In recent years, Alpenglow adopted the Winter Film Series, in which different professional athletes are featured each month throughout the winter. The event is always free to the public and sponsors provide raffle prizes to raise money for various local nonprofits.Aside from the annual film series, the retail shop also sponsors avalanche seminars, demo events, Nordic races and backcountry education forums. Events are always free of charge, but raffle donations have benefited countless organizations, including Adventure Risk Challenge, Sierra Avalanche Center, Tahoe Cross Country Ski Education Center, Project MANA, High Fives Foundation and Tahoe Safe Alliance.”We are all in this together, and we feel a responsibility to give back to this community in terms of events, but fiscally as well,” Madigan said. “It’s something that was extremely valuable to Don, and it’s something I truly believe in.”One adaptation Madigan may look into is increasing the online visibility of Alpenglow – a large consumer market the alpine retail store has yet to tap into.The Alpenglow website currently features an outdoor enthusiast blog where employees share backcountry experiences and jaunts about trail running, among other adrenaline-rushing topics.However, there is no shopping cart option, and Madigan may drag his feet before launching an online extension of the store.”Eventually we will have to cross that bridge – it’s inevitable,” Madigan said. “But I think coming into the store and getting user-based, friendly service really resonates with our customers and gives them a reason to shop here.”While the basin is crawling with outdoor retail shops, Madigan says there’s camaraderie among the business owners rather than competition.”There’s a familial exchange between us,” Madigan said. “We have our own different clientele and some overlap for sure, but it’s more about supporting each other as opposed to sending people to shop online or spend their money outside of the local economy.”Taking over the reins of the business may curtail this outdoor addict’s time spent skiing or trail running in the backcountry, but Madigan said it’s all about balance and time management. “I think it’s inevitable that the quantity of time I spend recreating will be reduced, but it’s vital to this business that I keep doing the things that I love,” Madigan said. “I’m selling the products that get me out of bed in the morning – what could be better than that?”
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