Fall foliage with a blue overlay

Celebrating 30 Years of Gear at the Outfitter’s Store

April 23, 2024
Outfitters Store at NOC Celebrating 30 years

As we celebrate 30 Years of Gear in the walls of our beloved NOC Outfitter’s Store, it wasn’t where our retail journey originally began. Let’s take a walk back through time.

In the 1940’s, Lum Wilson built a small country store along US Hwy-19 in Wesser, North Carolina. Few people stopped by, mainly for fuel, snacks, and cigarettes, and then, on weekends, a few fishermen came to cast for trout. Vincent Gassaway, the Swain County Sheriff at the time, bought the store in 1957 and replaced it with the Tote ‘N’ Tarry gift shop and Motel. The shop sold headdresses and rubber tomahawks to tourists en route to Cherokee and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, however, the customer traffic stayed mostly the same.

In May 1972, the NOC co-founders bought the property. By spring 1974, the store began focusing more on outdoor equipment, but nearly half the store was still dedicated to groceries for several more years.

Business began to pick up as paddlesports became more popular, and the diversity of gear exploded. Whitewater rafting became a hit, and thousands of people flocked to the Nantahala River. Mountain bikers arrived in droves, demanding more parts and services, as did the back deck. The store expanded, and the gas pumps came out in 1992 to create much-needed parking.

In 1991, former NOC staffer and architect Chris Larson, who designed Relia’s Garden Restaurant, and Rosemary Burton began the store design process. They met numerous times with groups of bigwigs, store staff, and adventure staff. The old store was drafty and cold in the winter, with the only warm spot being close to the wood stove. In summer, indoor temperatures reached 90°, melting the candy. 1993, the new store design was completed, and the old store was demolished.

Bill Baxter, a former NOC staffer, local builder, and triathlon winner, oversaw the construction of the new 6000-square-foot, two-story store. The grand opening was on April 9, 1994, with every department expanding and carrying more products. A full-service bike shop, a climbing shoe test wall, a bed to try out sleeping bags, and a boot ramp to ensure proper boot fitting were added. Down two new river walkways, you could relax, paddle up, or take a new boat to demo on the Nantahala. New features included air conditioning, cash registers, parking, accessible entry from Highway 19, longer store hours, and a return to the back porch overlooking the river. A beautiful store was created in a lovely place where it stands today.

This year, the store will serve droves of hikers stopping for a respite and their packages along the AT, boaters demoing the latest kayak, or grabbing a new paddle or dry top, and families and visitors perusing the racks of NOC t-shirts and hats looking for the perfect souvenir to remember their trip.

Thank you to all the Outfitter’s Store staff, patrons, paddlers, and visitors for the many decades of memories!

Check out this video from the opening of the new store, courtesy of Dale Briggs:


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