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First customers get in gear at REI opening

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 today the hearty 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 400 snaked north to La Strada on the other end of the retail row at Northgate Marketplace.

Amanda Beverly of Pittsburgh and backpacking companion Erik Vitands, who is in the process of moving to Brookings from Eugene, arrived just as invited guests were leaving a Thursday night preview. They 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 across the nation 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.

— Greg Stiles