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Wilton Sports Stores Face Competition from Incoming REI

Sporting goods giant REI, set to open in Norwalk later this year, ups the competitive ante in the area.

Wilton sports shops are putting out the welcome mat for REI, an outdoor sports outfitter, which will open a Norwalk store this fall.

"They are an amazing company and they do their job very well," said Scott Maxwell, general manager of Outdoor Sports Center.

REI, a multi-million dollar retailer, will hire between 30-50 employees for its new location. Named one of FORTUNE magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work for" for 13 consecutive years, it operates more than 100 retail stores across the country. In addition it has two online stores and an adventure travel company.

But REI doesn't have the personal touch that local sports stores do, said Maxwell.

 "We're a family-run business and we feel we provide a level of service that they can't match," said Maxwell. "The owners are here everyday, participating in the store. Whether greeting customers by name when they walk through the door or asking someone about a recent trip."

Still, Maxwell said it's exciting to have another store dedicated to the outdoors come to the area. It will help promote the outdoors and grow the market.

A group of Pacific Northwest mountaineers founded REI in 1938. Like Wilton's sports stores, REI offers camping, climbing, cycling, hiking and snow sport products.

"I'm sure it will siphon off a little business, but hopefully local people will still get what they need here," said Ken Cyr, owner of Wilton Sport Shop.

Wilton Sport Shop has equipped local residents and local sports teams with custom order uniforms and equipment for nearly 35 years. Customers who shopped at Wilton Sports as children now bring their own children in to the store.

Cyr said Wilton Sport Shop is also the only one in the area with an in-house print shop. That means local athletes can personalize their own uniforms, something REI doesn't do.

"Sometimes larger retailers don't get so involved with the local organizations," said Cyr.

In addition to the Norwalk store, REI will soon open stores in Bozeman, Montana and Tucson, Arizona.

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