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REI partly reopens six Seattle-area stores, Spokane location and others in Washington

UPDATED: Thu., May 14, 2020

The REI store at 1125 N. Monroe St. was among several Washington stores the Seattle-based company partially opened Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
The REI store at 1125 N. Monroe St. was among several Washington stores the Seattle-based company partially opened Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
From staff and wire reports

Seattle and Spokane-area REI fans can enjoy at least a taste of the prepandemic shopping experience as the outdoor retailer partly opened several locations across the state Wednesday under Washington’s new coronavirus rules.

And while REI hopes returning customers will wear masks, CEO Eric Artz said, that won’t be a requirement.

The Spokane REI began offering curbside service on Wednesday for orders placed online. Customers can also call to schedule bike repairs, which need to be dropped off, store manager Mike Harcarik said.

“People are just starting to realize we are open,” Harcarik said. “We’ve had a lot of phone calls. We are expecting some big interest for this weekend.”

Friday marks the start of the REI’s annual anniversary sale to celebrate the outdoor retailer, which first opened in 1938.

“It’s our biggest sale of the year. It’s all online, but there are lots of great deals,” Harcarik said.

Customers need to make online purchases and then call the store at (509) 328-9900 for directions on how to pick up the items, he said.

“We want to get open just like everyone else does,” Harcarik said. “But safety is our number one priority.”

In Seattle on May 3, REI began offering so-called zero-contact bicycle-repair services, in which employees receive, repair and return bikes without any direct contact with customers. A sixth Puget Sound REI location, in Issaquah, also has offered the bicycle-repair service since May 3, but it will not yet open for curbside pickup.

The Seattle-area reopenings follow last week’s announcement by Gov. Jay Inslee that nonessential retailers can reopen for curbside pickup in the first of the state’s four-phase reopening plan.

Four other Washington state REI locations – in Silverdale, Olympia, Bellingham and Kennewick – also began curbside pickup Wednesday as part of the retailer’s plans to reopen more than half of its national fleet of 162 stores in time for the anniversary sale, which runs Friday through May 25; those stores have offered bicycle-repair service since May 3.

All reopened locations will follow strict health and safety guidelines, the company said. In a letter to members, Artz said store employees will wear face coverings, and he asked customers to wear them, too. “It’s a simple thing that we can all do right now to take care of one another,” Artz said, adding that stores will provide free masks to customers who don’t have one.

But an REI spokesperson was quick to note that customers who chose not to wear masks would not be refused service unless the stores were in jurisdictions requiring face coverings in public areas. “Broadly, it’s a request, not a requirement,” spokesperson Halley Knigge said.

In making masks voluntary, REI may avoid some of the controversy that has enveloped Costco, which requires customers to wear masks.

REI’s reopening comes almost two months after it closed its physical locations and put many of its 14,000 employees on paid leave for what was hoped would be a short shutdown. But in early April, the company announced it would furlough many of its employees without pay for 90 days and cut pay for senior managers.

This week’s reopening will see some of those furloughed staff back in the stores, though Knigge acknowledged that staffing levels would be lower. “We will be operating with fewer people in-store than we did prior to our temporary store closures in this immediate period, particularly in stores that are just offering curbside pickup and zero-touch shop services,” she said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

REI returns to an outdoor retail sector that has fared unevenly during Washington’s stay-at-home period. While rival Patagonia has been slow to reopen, with plans to offer curbside-pickup service at only 10 locations by May 20, down-market competitor Big 5 remained open as an “essential” business, thanks to sales of products such as coffee makers, humidifiers, air mattress and sleeping bags, according to one Seattle-area store employee.

The Seatte Times contributed to this report.

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