‘Hooked’ on the outdoors: Sporting goods, gear shops seeing strong summer sales
If you’ve walked along the Truckee River this summer, you may have noticed a trend: more people with fishing poles in their hands. Some are hugging the banks, plopping lines in the water. Others are standing in the water, waders on, unfurling a fly line; some in a fluid motion like a seasoned pro, others in a herky-jerky cast like a first-timer.
Sure, with a wealth of rivers, lakes and reservoirs stretched across Northern Nevada’s mountainous landscape, fishing has always been a popular outdoor activity this time of year.
The coronavirus pandemic, however, has created a growing pool of Nevadans craving the outdoors after being cooped up for months inside during various business closures and restrictions.
Just ask Jim Litchfield, owner of Reno Fly Shop, who said his fly fishing-centric sporting goods store in downtown has been especially busy this year.
“I think the pent-up anxiety of the stay-at-home (order) definitely kind of corked up some desire to get outside and recreate,” said Litchfield, noting the shop has seen an increase in helping set up beginner and novice anglers this summer. “It’s a great opportunity for us to introduce many new anglers to the sport, and it’s been a lot of fun. People have been coming back since they got first set up. They’ve been coming back over and over again and enjoying it.”
Litchfield, who declined to provide sales percentages compared to last year, said the pandemic is one of many factors that have driven more people outside.
“It’s hard to compare one thing versus the other because in any given year we have a lot of variables — water conditions, weather conditions and economic conditions,” he explained. “It’s a nexus of people having the opportunity to get outside after a period of time of staying at home. And we’ve had great weather. And we’ve had several good winters in a row, so all of the reservoirs are full and the rivers and creeks are full of water. And the (Nevada) Department of Wildlife has stocked a lot of fish.
Pausing, he added: “I think we have a great number of outdoor recreational interests that people are realizing to enjoy in our area.”
Perhaps no activity has been more popular than fishing. According to NDOW, fishing license sales in Nevada are up 46% compared to 2019, with 55,204 licenses purchased this year as of mid-August.
Ashley Sanchez, public information officer at NDOW, said it’s the most fishing license sales the department has ever seen at this point of a year, and the highest year-over-year increase ever.
Fishing/hunting combination licenses sales are also up 11%, Sanchez said. She noted that the statistics also include licenses purchased by people from out of state.
“We did not anticipate license sales to jump the way they did, but we’re not surprised,” Sanchez said in an email to the NNBW. “This year, people can’t travel like they may have in previous summers. They can’t go on vacations to places like Europe or Disneyland, so we’ve noticed many people are turning to the outdoors and taking advantage of Nevada’s public lands.
“On top of that, there’s no better way to social distance than to spend time outside on Nevada’s public lands.”
Brierley McCubbins, who manages digital content for Reno Fly Shop, also pointed to the influence social media has on people stuck home.
“With Instagram and all these other social media outlets … people have the chance to look at activities and hobbies that they probably wouldn’t have looked at before,” McCubbins said. “After COVID, I think we all took those dreams that we built up during our downtime and now we want to go pursue those. There are people who have always wanted to fly-fish, and just watched enough videos during those couple weeks and then decided to go and get after it.”
To that end, McCubbins said while Reno Fly Shop was shut down this spring, they took the opportunity to revamp their website and launch an expansive online store.
“We saw an insane spike when that was the only option,” McCubbins said. “Now that our shop floor is open again, it gives us a chance to interact with you, talk with you and share our experiences.
“But our online presence rose and was able to level off and stay pretty consistent since then.”
Rusty Donlon, co-owner and manger of Reno-based Gear Hut, said his outdoor gear consignment shop has seen a surge of stir-crazy customers, as well — so much so that he’s having trouble keeping certain highly sought-after items in stock.
“The items that are hot — like 45-65 liter backpacks, sleeping bags, one-to-three person tents, mountain bikes — are flying,” Donlon said in a phone interview with the NNBW. “They come in and leave within a few days, if not the same day sometimes.”
Donlon said Gear Hut, which he opened with his wife, Leah, in 2018, saw a 35% sales increase in May. After a 10% dip in June, the shop bounced back with a 39% jump in sales in July.
“More people are getting into camping, more people are getting into backpacking, more people getting into hiking,” Donlon said. “We’re down to like two sleeping bags left in our whole store, and usually we have about 15 to 20. Also, with our backpacking packs we’re down to just a couple and we’re usually stock full of at least 10.”
Because Gear Hut is a consignment shop, Dolon is hopeful that people who are cleaning out their garages will bring in their used gear to help them stock their shelves.
At the same time, he hopes the pandemic will produce more recreationists who consistently spend time outdoors.
“Obviously, sales are not going to keep rising at this rate, but I’d like to see it stay here,” Donlon said. “I hope that all these people that just got into outdoors don’t give up on it and go back to their old lives. I hope they continue getting outside.”
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