Retail has traditionally played a minor role at Beckel Canvas, a family-run firm in Portland, Oregon, that manufactures and repairs tents and bags. Founded in 1964, Beckel supplies indestructible, water-repellent gear to hunters and fishermen, and back in the early days used to deal with this woodsy clientele mostly through its catalogue.
When Kathy Beckel Darnielle took over from her father in 2000, however, she decided to put the tiny retail space behind the firm’s workshop into action. Today, eccentric window displays – where stuffed beavers cavort among the firm’s classic-looking courier bags and backpacks – attract visitors from the surrounding centre-city neighbourhood.
“We have two crowds now,” Darnielle says. “We have hunters and outdoorsmen who want traditional wall tents, and we have urbanites who show up on bicycles and want to talk about cool bags and custom orders.” While sales to high-end clients – Russian luxury fishing trips and so on – dropped in 2009, foot traffic and small-scale business picked up. “People are staying local,” she says. “We offer no-frills products that we make one piece at a time. If the stitching fails, we repair it for free.”
Darnielle says passing trade, once no more than 5 per cent of business, accounted for a fifth of orders in 2009 – and comes with a welcome bonus. Face-to-face connections with a younger set of entrepreneurs, writers and designers have helped Beckel place its expanding luggage line in boutiques citywide. The retail space’s homey hodgepodge of tents, bags, moose antlers and other memorabilia opens directly into the workshop, where seamstresses work vintage Pfaff and Chandler sewing machines; serving as quiet advertisements for the firm’s time-tested quality.
Why it works:
01 No pretentions: The shop’s a decoration-free zone — which keeps the focus on practical, rugged outdoors credentials.
02 Price-point variety: A visitor can buy a €450 tent—or a €10.50 bag.
03 Regional awareness: Urbanites in soggy Portland need water-resistant materials just as Northwestern hunters do.