As SOKO Outfitters celebrates one year open in Cedar Rapids, a look back at the past year -- and what’s to come
As SOKO Outfitters approaches its one-year Grand Opening anniversary in October, one thing is clear: this community is coming together around SOKO, which together with its customers is contributing in a meaningful way to growing the active outdoor scene in a place where some would say it’s least expected. From an incredible trip to the Grand Canyon, to massively successful events like Paddle Day, to presentations and pint nights and yoga and rock climbing and so much more, it’s been a year for the books.
I spoke with store managers Cortney Wolter and Paul Sueppel, co-owner Steve Shriver, and several happy customers to talk about the highlights from the past year, the biggest surprises, and what’s coming up in the year ahead.
SOKO began leading adventure trips to give locals an opportunity to get outside in some amazing places. In 2019, eight people from Cedar Rapids attended the Grand Canyon hiking trip, beginning a tradition that sets the tone for future adventures -- including a fully booked trip to Patagonia in 2020.
Many more people geared up at SOKO for their own adventures. In the last year, people shopped at SOKO for trips to Iceland, Machu Picchu, Ireland, Scotland, Africa, Alaska, and the Camino de Santiago in Spain, among others. And they’re stocking up on insulating layers, hiking pants, water filtration systems, hiking boots and more to prepare for their trips, knowing they’re getting high-quality gear locally.
People from all over Iowa and beyond shop at SOKO, but what’s most surprising to the managers is that so many people who live in Cedar Rapids are just finding out the store is here. “We get new customers every day,” said Sueppel. “The customers we do have stand behind us, and we’re hoping to create a sense of community, and people are telling their friends.”
Duane Jasper, a frequent customer from Cedar Rapids, articulated what people love about SOKO: “I think everything about the store is awesome. It’s bringing something new to the community and the area. They embrace the whole concept of an active community in their apparel. And the staff are very knowledgeable, quick to answer any of your questions, and always friendly. It’s a little adventure every time we walk in the store and do some shopping,” Jasper said.
Events, events, EVENTS!
SOKO Outfitters has held many successful events throughout the year. Last fall, two big-adventuring Iowans came to hang at the store: Jen Loeb talked about her experience climbing and summiting Mount Everest, and Andrea Cohen recounted her experience in the Tour Divide, an ultra-cycling race that runs the length of the Great Divide mountain bike route.
Over 70 people attended SOKO’s first annual Paddle Day on July 21 at Prairie Creek Fishery. Attendees tried out kayaks and stand-up paddleboards for sale at SOKO and talked with store reps about their paddling questions.
In fact, another one of the most surprising things the managers have encountered in the past year is the popularity of stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) -- sales have exceeded kayak sales at SOKO. “We’ve done really well with SUPs. This is unique to Cedar Rapids, not on the same pattern as other stores like SOKO around the country,” said Sueppel. People are taking their SUPs to Prairie Creek Fishery, Palo, Lake McBride. “The great things about paddle boards is pretty much any still water works,” he added.
Winter sports are big at SOKO, too. Sueppel led a well-attended snowshoeing class at Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids that met with great reception. This event will be coming back in 2020. SOKO both rents and sells snowshoes to encourage people to find adventure in their own backyards.
Many of you SOKO fans like to enjoy a drink: two of the most popular events of the past year have been Yoga & Mimosas, and Pint Nights. For eight months in a row, Yoga & Mimosas has been at or near capacity as attendees enjoy movement, a drink, and shopping on Sunday mornings.
Pint Nights are an opportunity to talk with the rep of a specific brand in-store, have a drink, and get special discounts. Past Pint Nights have included specials on Olukai and Osprey gear - watch out for Patagonia Pint Night, coming this winter.
What’s coming up?
Think more of what you love: new brands, more great events, and even more adventure!
“We have two new brands coming this fall: Toad & Co., a lifestyle brand known for sustainable textiles, and RAB, which offers technical apparel, coats and gloves and hats,” said Wolter.
The store leadership is so grateful for the incredible customer support they’ve received that they’re going to do something nice for you, the customers: a customer appreciation event in October.
“Since we had soft opening in September and grand opening in October last year, we are going to mirror those events this year,” said Wolter. Stay tuned for details on that and watch your email. Haven’t signed up for the email list? Just visit the SOKO Outfitters website.
“I’m really excited to get to know our customers even better and see how the outdoor community in Cedar Rapids continues to grow and evolve,” said Shriver. “From water recreation to rock climbing and hiking we have made some good headway but have a long way to go!”