The first wave of customers at the new REI store in Medford rolled out their sleeping bags Thursday evening with visions of discount coupons dancing in their heads.
By daybreak Friday, the hardy souls were joined by scores more, who preferred their own beds to bedrolls, and in the hour leading to the cutting of purple webbing that signaled the start of business, a line of more than 500 snaked north to La Strada on the other end of the retail row at the Northgate Marketplace.
Amanda Beverly of Pittsburgh and backpacking companion Erik Vitands, who is in the process of moving to Brookings from Eugene, arrived Thursday night just as guests were leaving an invitation-only preview for recreation and community leaders.
The couple backed their sedan into the nearest parking spot and camped beneath the store canopy.
"We've been hiking the wild rivers and down in the redwoods," Vitands said. "I needed to return a tent and saw there was a new REI in Medford; that was a lot closer than San Francisco or Bend. We've been based out of our car and it was actually easier getting here than 10 miles up logging roads."
The Medford opening was one of four this weekend, along with San Antonio, Cincinnati and Woodbridge, Va., outside Washington, D.C.
Patrons were greeted by an energetic staff ready to discuss the latest and greatest recreational gear.
Store manager Cindy Biles, who has worked at seven REIs and been part of four openings since 1991, said the run-up to the 24,287-square-foot store's opening went remarkably well.
"A week ago this place was empty other than the fixtures, but we were able to bring in six team leaders from other stores and everything came together smoothly," Biles said.
For those whose jobs, classes or sleep habits prevented them from making Friday's opener, REI is in rewind mode and will offer a repeat of its debut this morning and again Sunday.
Alex Angstadt, an admitted REI junkie who has shopped for camping gear at widespread locations in Idaho to Colorado, arrived with a friend at 11 p.m. Thursday only to find someone already in line.
"Even though I've shopped at REIs all over the place for years, I've never lived in a place they had an REI," Angstadt said. "They've been talking about this one forever, and the day is finally upon us."
His quest for the day?
"A titanium spoon to take backpacking," he said.
Todd Smith, an REI spokesman on hand for the weekend festivities, was pleasantly surprised to see a platoon of shoppers waiting in line after getting back from dinner Thursday night.
"It was great to see them having tea and hanging out through the night," Smith said. "The dedicated few."
Absorbing the morning sun across the way while the throng shivered in the shadows, Ian Nelson nodded approvingly as the crowd high-fived its way through the double-doors. Nelson is the regional representative for the Pacific Crest Trail Association.
"From our perspective, REI's presence helps community outreach efforts," Nelson said. "Last night was a testament of REI's reaching out to local advocacy groups and showing the importance of having us here."
Kevin House, retail director for 14 stores in Oregon and California, said REI had a following in the region long before it came to Medford.
"We've had a pretty good membership base here, and strategically this fills the last spot on I-5 from Bellingham, north of Seattle, down into California."
Some REIs are in repurposed warehouses, others have multiple floors.
House said the opportunity to move into a new building has many advantages.
"You can do exactly what you want to do, because you are starting with a clean slate," House said.
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail email@example.com.