By Isaac Lorton
On Gates Street in White River Junction, near the ice cream cone sign above Ava’s and just down from where the flower pedals grace the steps of the Valley Flower Company, next to Lampscapes, across from Northern Stage, a new sign hangs outside a small shop. It is a wooden shingle with ‘Gear Again’ grooved into it. You step into the space and are greeted by a custom-made ski rack holding all types of skis and snowboards. Like a winter fountain in a town square, the ski rack acts as the centerpiece of the room, and different sections wrap around the outer walls. Used equipment to some, new adventures for others.
Bridget Cushman began Gear Again in the most fitting of ways: reimagining a seasonally vacant storefront to launch a new outdoor-gear consignment shop downtown.
She was working at Fat Hat’s satellite storefront in White River Junction until the pandemic hit, then decided now was the time to actualize her idea.
Bridget and her friends would go to the Outdoor Gear Exchange up in Burlington and on their journeys to and from would discuss opening one in White River Junction
“And then I wasn’t working,” Bridget says. “I had always tried to convince someone else to open one of these stores and nobody snagged on that idea. I think it’s because I wanted to shop there,” she laughed.
Fat Hat Clothing Company, based in Quechee, was planning to shutter its White River Junction satellite storefront for the winter, the one where Bridget had worked. With that in mind, Bridget approached Fat Hat owner Joan Ecker about starting this enterprise.
“She asked, ‘Where are you going to put it?’ And I said, ‘I want it to be in White River… She offered [the space] and I jumped on it. So I am here for a little bit, and then I think you’ll see Fat Hat back here. If everything goes to plan, as it is so far, we’ll be moving to a larger space. We need to. As you can see we’re already stuffing it in here.”
The store is small, but efficiently laid out, especially with some cumbersomely large winter equipment. There is a layers section, with footwear and ice skates on shelves beneath.
“I always tell people who bring in consignment to think about bringing in base layers that don’t work for them because base layers sell very quickly,” Bridget says. “Nobody really cares what colors they are, nobody really cares too much about the shape, but if they’re wool and synthetic, they are popular.”
Then there’s the little library corner.
“I like books, especially guided books, because you can bring them into the woods with you and mark pages,” Bridget says. “I keep notes on hikes I’ve done.”
The “boot-a-licious” section, where all of the ski and snowboard boots live, has two benches to help you find your way into the right pair. There’s a snowshoe section with ski and trekking poles. Next to that is the kiddos section, with footwear, layers, ang gear. There’s a backpacking and camping section, and they even have some hockey gear. The gear reflects the season.
“Consignment is great for people who don’t have the time or interest to sell their own things using marketplace or craigslist,” Bridget says. “It’s also an opportunity to get a bunch of equipment together, so you can try on more than one pair of ski boots, you can check out more than one snowboard, or find the right jacket that really fits. It gives those people a little money back, which they are welcome to spend in the store and they get a little higher percentage, or they can take that money and put it toward their next adventure.”
A hiker and backcountry skier, Bridget says the biggest learning curve has been learning about new outdoor sports, like cross-country skiing and hockey. She wants to be an empowering presence for people trying to sell their old gear and for those looking to try something new. She hopes that people will feel good coming into her shop not knowing everything and not be embarrassed to ask questions.
“I’ve grown up here, I’m an outdoors person, but I’ve never cross-country skied, so that’s something that I’m learning,” Bridget says. “You can’t expect anyone to know about all of what the Upper Valley has to offer. And there’s so many new people that come to the area. Hopefully I can give them that comfort, and I might not know it all, so we’ll figure it out together.”
The work takes a lot of “googling” and asking her village of friends for equipment advice. The customers are easy to work with, she says, because the ultimate end for both parties is to get outside. For Bridget, the goal is to help people with their physical and mental health. For customers, it’s to buy and sell affordable outdoor gear.
“The sort of people who come in here are not easily upset. They’re a pretty chill group. They’re just trying to have fun. It’s not a high-stress situation. They’re not looking for anything fancy or too expensive. People are really nice and understanding. And they come with a bunch of great stories. I love asking people, once I find out what they’re consigning, about their stories. It’s fun to share and to learn.”
Since opening in the fall, Bridget has seen a lot of cross-country skis and snowshoes go in and out the door rather quickly, as people seek affordable ways to make the most of winter here.
“This year in particular most people are looking for cross-country skis and snowshoes because you don’t need a resort pass -- you can go anywhere, you don’t have to have a very strong skillset. You don’t have to be as courageous as maybe doing backcountry skiing... Anyone in the family can do it. That’s what’s been popular.”
Well-loved equipment is important, Bridget says, because people don’t always need something brand-new to get outside. Consignment helps people’s pockets and the environment.
“Let’s talk about the environmental impact that you have by buying second hand anything, really,” Bridget says. “Around here outdoor equipment is pretty hard to find in general, so buying it second hand, you’re really cutting down your carbon footprint. You don’t need shiny new skis. You’re going to bring them out and beat them up, hopefully. It’s a great way to try out new things without putting down such an investment for it.”
Gear Again is currently a one-party-at-a-time shop and is taking appointments, trying to stay safe. Post-pandemic, Bridget hopes that fostering this sharing mentality will connect people and make the shop a hub for outdoor groups.
“I thought that the community could use a store like this,” Bridget says. “I’d love to have a backcountry group that gets together and does an evening ski once a week. I have a woman who comes in who wants to start a women’s walking group. I’d love to have that community building part of it.”
Bridget is grateful that her idea is working out and that people have been supportive so far. When the spring comes, she says she plans to find a space downtown and continue to contribute to the legacy of female business owners in White River Junction.
“I love White River Junction. One of the things that appeals to me so much is that during World War II when all the men went off to war, all the women stayed and ran these shops or were opening shops, and they were the business owners in downtown White River Junction. And, there are still a bunch, so I am excited to be a woman business owner who is part of that history now.”