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For their fifth flagship, and first foray into the Washington, D.C. market, the nation’s largest consumer co-op and specialty outdoor retailer, REI, chose a space at the historic Washington Coliseum (Uline Arena) in DC’s emerging NoMa neighborhood. The 51,000-SF flagship represents the culmination of an 18-month process to completely reimagine REI’s store experience. Multiple terraces flow down into the store, breaking down the cavernous single-level, 50,000-SF floorplate while increasing the ceiling height to accommodate REI’s diverse mix of outdoor gear.

The terraces not only create vistas across the entire store, but also naturally break down the space into a collection of smaller, intimate shopping zones. The different platforms create an amphitheater vibe, harking back to the historic concerts and sporting events held in the arena. The use of conventional interior finishes, such as drywall, was purposefully minimized, in keeping with the “gear garage” aesthetic. The architecture and material palette is simple, raw, and utilitarian; the walls are lined with exposed plywood and concrete backer board.

The wood flooring was salvaged from dunnage—wood used for packing cargo on shipping trucks. Large steel garage doors let in light and air, and kilim rugs and eclectic seating groups help to soften the overall experience. REI’s eclectic mix of found objects, hand finished graphics, furnishings, vintage outdoor gear and local artifacts add a human touch and moments of softness within the vast assortment of gear and apparel.

Highlights at the DC flagship include a 1965 VW wagon, complete with a keg on the roof, and one-of-a-kind props like a lime green ceramic fire place anchoring the Snowboard shop. A completely new way of looking at the REI stores, the market concept elevates the brand and best highlights REI’s service and expertise. Most importantly, it inspires REI members to take action and head outdoors.

The collection of focal points around the perimeter blend into the eclectic marketplace commons in the center of the store to create a relaxed, casual and communal vibe intersected by moments of discovery and inspiration. Bringing the “outdoors in” was a key goal for the store. Large warehouse-style windows and garage doors allow daylight to enter and offer views into the store. The outdoor courtyard encourages local outdoor enthusiasts to hang out. REI’s expert staff uses the space for gear demos and events.

Design: CallisonRTKL
Photography: 2016 Aaron Leitz Photography

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