UPDATE (Aug. 31, 2023): REI has now officially announced its first location in Ithaca, setting an opening date of summer 2024.
Confirming earlier reporting by The Ithaca Voice, a press release from the company stated that the location, at 742 South Meadow Street, will be about 17,000 square feet with a “full service bike shop and ski and snowboard shop.”
The next closest REI location in the state is in Rochester, New York.
“We look forward to being a resource to the outdoor community, including 23,600 REI members, and those who are active across the Finger Lakes region,” said Sonny Russell, REI regional director. “As we do in every community where we have a presence, REI will also establish partnerships with nonprofits doing incredible work to protect natural places and create belonging in the outdoors.”
Original story (March 27, 2023):
ITHACA, N.Y.—For a city so fond of its gorges, it would seem fitting that a high-profile outdoor and camping gear retailer would set its sights on some local digs.
REI, the retail name for Recreational Equipment Inc., is a retail and outdoor recreation services co-operative based in the Seattle suburbs. Specializing in camping goods, fitness equipment, and travel apparel, the firm operates 165 stores in 39 states, with the only Upstate New York location operating in the Rochester suburb of Henrietta. But now, REI has decided they could use a second Upstate location, right in the city of Ithaca.
The news came about via fortunate accident. Benderson Development is planning a new 7,000 square-foot restaurant/retail out-parcel building at South Meadow Square, the retail complex at 736-744 South Meadow Street best known for hosting the local Trader Joe’s. The project was first approved in 2020, but in the city of Ithaca, approvals expire after two years if no construction has commenced. Since Benderson wants to build the new building this year, it had to file for re-approval of the original plans, which is not expected to be an issue. As part of its filings, though, Benderson lists the tenants in all of its existing retail spaces, demonstrating what is occupied and what isn’t.
As some readers have already pointed out to us in emails, Staples is moving from its current 17,000 square-foot location next to PetSmart, and into 20,666 square feet of space in the same retail plaza, between the recently opened Trader Joe’s and Ulta Beauty. That 17,000 square-foot space next to PetSmart is where REI will go, as confirmed in documents filed for the out-parcel building to be reviewed by the Planning Board Tuesday night.
A projected opening date for REI is not yet available, though is likely several months away at the minimum, as the former Staples space would need to be renovated after Staples moves to its new location.
Some of the submitted documents refer to the former Staples as “Available Retail.” Several others note the planned REI. All of the documents have the same date, Jan. 20, likely when the package was prepared for review by city planners. The likely scenario here was that the deal had been recently finalized and it was reflected in some schematic documents, but not all, when the package was assembled for city review.
Most newer REI stores are between 22,000 and 25,000 square feet, so this would be on the smaller side. However, in the past couple of years, the retailer has been piloting a new smaller store format, with floor space as small as 6.500 square feet.
A request for comment from James Boglioli, a Cornell alumnus and Benderson’s Director for “Right-to-Build” (the person in charge of development and obtaining site plan approval), was not returned, nor was a request for comment sent to Benderson’s general inquiries office. Frankly, this isn’t the first time the firm has inadvertently shared news of a retailer coming to South Meadow Square — this was exactly how we found out Old Navy was moving downtown from the mall a few years ago, named within the site plan of a different Benderson project.
Turning back to REI, not only are its outdoorsy offerings well-suited for Ithaca’s populace, the corporate structure fits the local vibe as well. As a co-operative, REI is owned by its 24.5 million members, and membership can be obtained via a $30 lifetime membership fee. Each active member has the right to vote for members of the company’s 13-member board of directors, and is eligible to receive an annual patronage dividend on qualifying purchases, typically worth about 10% of what that member spends at REI.