COLONIE — REI is coming to Colonie Center.
The hiking and outdoor co-op is looking to renovate some 21,500-square-foot of the interior of the old Sears store and enclose an additional 4,500-square-foot of where the garden center was located.
Joe LaCivita, director of the town’s Planning and Economic Development Department, said the Washington state-based company is going through the change of tenant process now, but he said it should be a fairly simple process.
Retail is, obviously, within existing zoning and a demolition permit has been issued by the Building Department. Once the construction is complete, the town will need to inspect plumbing and electrical and then issue a CO.
“Everything should be done administratively,” LaCivita said. “With what they are planning, the Town Board and Planning Board are not involved.”
REI, which stands for Recreational Equipment Inc., is a co-op which, according to its website, returns more than 70 percent of its profits back to its some 18 million lifetime members. Since it was formed in 1938 by a group of 23 hiking friends, it has grown to 155 stores in 35 states and the District of Columbia while boasting a huge online presence.
An ice axe
According to the company, in 1935 Lloyd and Mary Anderson were in the market for new ice axes. The going price was about $20, or about $366 in 2018 dollars, at the ski shops around their Seattle, Washington home, so the couple decided to bypass the middle man and order them right from Austria for about $3.50, including postage.
Their hiking and outdoorsy friends caught on and wanted in so the group pooled their money to get more buying power. In 1938, the charter members of the REI co-op chipped in a dollar each to become lifetime members.
The co-op began to sell their gear off a shelf at a local grocery store with the Anderson’s using their attic as storage.
Lloyd Anderson penned the organization’s mission statement in November, 1938 and the company maintains it rings true today: “Intent of the founders of this organization was to secure sufficient membership to make group buying possible; to distribute the goods with as little overheads expense as possible, using membership cooperation with the work as much as possible; to gradually build up a reserve for purchasing stock; to have the membership fee ($1) so that everyone interested will be financially able to join.”
Today, a lifetime membership is $20 and in addition to ice axes, the company sells everything an outdoor enthusiast could possibly want to engage in any type of outdoor activity from mountain climbing to paddling and everything in between.
The nearest outlets to the Capital District are in West Hartford, Connecticut and Framingham, Massachusetts. In New York state there are outlets in Rochester, Long Island and in New York City.
“It’s exciting to have a big brand name like that coming into the mall,” LaCivita said. “These types of store help keep the mall vibrant and when they bring names like this into the area it helps the entire area. The new owners have really done a lot with Colonie Center.”
Conceivable, the company could be open in time for the Christmas season, LaCivita said, but a timeline was not discussed with the town and it not the town’s responsibility.
The Capital District’s first enclosed mall, built in 1966, has undergone a number of changes over the years including a portion being sold to a new owner earlier this year.
The sprawling, 1.5 million-square-foot retail mecca actually has three owners. Macy’s, an anchor when the mall was built, built a new three-story store in 1988 and owns that portion of the building. Seritage Growth Properties, the real estate arm of Sears, owns the southeast portion of the mall, where Sears used to be located and is currently home to Whole Foods.
The company has renovated the former auto shop at the intersection of Wolf Road and Central Avenue to accommodate BJ’s Restaurant and Warehouse and is looking for permission to build a Starbucks in the parking lot. In 2014, the company opened Whole Foods in a portion of the total 275,000-square-foot of space it owns in the mall.
The rest of the mall was sold by Feldman Mall Properties to KKR & Co, an investment firm out of New York City for $106 million. That portion of the mall is currently back on the market.
One of the longstanding anchor tenants is LL Bean, itself a renowned outdoor company selling many of the same products as REI.