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Smackdown: Adventure-Gear

  • Eastern Mountain Sports
    Urban-woodsman mainstay.
    530 Broadway, at Spring St.; 212-966-8730
    Much-hyped Seattle newcomer.
    303 Lafayette St., at Houston St.; 212-680-1938

    Company Backstory
    Eastern Mountain Sports: Founded in 1967 by two Massachusetts rock climbers
    REI: Founded in 1938 as a co-op by 23 rock climbers

    Eastern Mountain Sports: 14,000 square feet; two floors
    REI: 39,000 square feet; three floors

    Typical Clerk
    Eastern Mountain Sports: Bearded flannel-wearer who spends weekends in the wilderness
    REI: Eager-to-help student in khakis who bike-commutes to work

    "Does this harness support two people ... at home?"
    Eastern Mountain Sports: “I wouldn’t recommend it”
    REI: “It’s always a good idea to have a spotter”

    Favored customers
    Eastern Mountain Sports: Rock climbers
    REI: Cyclists

    Number of adult shoppers wearing backpacks on a recent visit
    Eastern Mountain Sports: Three
    REI: Six

    Number toting yoga mats
    Eastern Mountain Sports: One
    REI: Three

    Eastern Mountain Sports: An Ikea-like maze. Hit a dead end, until someone cheerfully pops up to ask if you need help
    REI: Spacious and orderly, with helpful one-page tear sheets posted throughout (e.g., “How to Choose a Camp Stove”)

    Eastern Mountain Sports: Ambiguous chick rock
    REI: Up-tempo world music

    In-store events
    Eastern Mountain Sports: Occasionally
    REI: Fourteen free presentations this month such as “Backpacking Yosemite”

    Bike tuneup price
    Eastern Mountain Sports: $75
    REI: $85

    Perks for cyclists
    Eastern Mountain Sports: Retül digital bike-fitting
    REI: Street-level concierge for drop-off service; open bike shop

    Inventory weakness
    Eastern Mountain Sports: No snowboards
    REI: No snowboards

    Both stores are exhaustively stocked with similar brands and merchandise, but REI wins out for its easy-to-navigate layout and packed schedule of free events.

From the 2012 Best of New York issue of New York Magazine