It’s been four years since outdoors retailer REI started planning a DC flagship, and two years since it signed on to build the store inside Douglas Development’s Uline Arena next to the NoMa Metro. Finally, REI, along with in-store coffee shop, La Colombe, are just about ready for their debut—the ribbon-cutting takes place Friday at 10 a.m., with events lasting through Sunday. We got a tour of the nearly finished space today. Here’s what we learned.
1. About that rock-climbing wall…
At least around the Washingtonian newsroom, there seems to be a widely held impression that this REI was supposed to come with a rock-climbing wall (like this one at its Seattle flagship). Hate to disappoint, but that was never in the plans for the DC store. And it’s not in the plans for any other new stores, either. Elizabeth Dowd, divisional vice president of retail experience, says REI stopped including them once climbing gyms became popular. (However, Earth Treks climbing gym will set up a portable rock wall during the grand opening events this weekend.)
2. The REI language.
When you visit, expect to hear a lot about “moments of discovery”—these are what the REI staff hopes you experience as you wander the 51,000-square-foot store. An example might be the sleeping bag station, where you can stretch out across a large table and take a test snuggle in any one of the store’s myriad options. Another example might be the mural on the bathroom wall that gives an explainer on pooping in the woods.
Sorry, did we just say “REI staff?” What we meant was “inspired guides.” This is REI-speak for salespeople.
3. The store is designed for DC’s cycling community.
As soon as you walk in the front entrance, you’ll see the massive bike area to your right. You can, of course, buy a bike and essentially any kind of biking gear imaginable, but the coolest part is the repair shop, designed so you can watch the techs at work. Given its location just off the Metropolitan Branch Trail, the store will be equipped to handle emergency “triage fixes” for cyclists on the spot.
4. You can use the store to plan your next trip.
REI partnered with the National Park Service to incorporate an “adventure station” into the store. It’s stocked with guide books, brochures, and maps of national parks, forests, and other outdoorsy destinations. You can peruse them yourself, or consult with dedicated staff whose job is to help you choose a locale based on whatever criteria you give them—i.e. that you’re only willing to drive up to three hours, there has to be beginner-level hiking, and you need a dog-friendly campsite.
5. Where to find remnants of Uline Arena’s past.
The arena, also known as the Washington Coliseum, was built in 1941 and went on to host the Beatles’ first ever American concert. Its more recent, significantly less glamorous history includes use as a waste transfer station and a parking garage. For the most part, REI’s interior space is brand new, but there are some original architectural elements still visible. In the courtyard (which will be open year-round, and has a fireplace), original concrete archways tower overhead. Along the wall of the building that fronts the Metro tracks, you can also see original columns and part of the building’s foundation. One hallway is clad in the arena’s original flooring, with the old stadium seating mounted to the wall.