A year ago Renny and Sarah Johnson were relaxing in Lakeside when they began sketching ideas on a napkin.
Over the last 20 years the Flathead Valley had been home to some of their fondest memories and favorite adventures, including getting married at Renny’s parents’ house outside Bigfork, where they met. When they returned to visit family on vacation last Christmas, Renny and Sarah came to the agreement that they didn’t want to leave. So they grabbed a napkin at the Tamarack Brewing Company and began writing down their strategy for staying.
Today that marked-up napkin has burgeoned into a fully stocked outdoor retail store and service shop in downtown Bigfork.
The Johnsons opened Montana Adventure Sports at 439 Electric Avenue in June, the culmination of a passion for being outdoors and a dream of opening a small business in a beloved place.
“This has been something that has been mulling around in the back of my head for a long time,” Renny said recently.
“We’ve always loved it up here. It’s always felt like home to us.”
The Johnsons’ business appears to have been welcomed with open arms, too. Thanks to strong local support in the business community and an eager clientele, Montana Adventure Sports hit the ground running with a strong summer, and winter continues at a healthy clip, according to Renny.
“We had a wonderful start,” he said. “I believe we made a good first impression.”
There’s a noticeable attention to detail at Montana Adventures Sports, from the logo, which originated on that keepsake napkin, to the product lineup, which features well-respected brands.
The store has generated excitement with a unique selection of gear and apparel that includes Helly Hansen products, Boga stand-up paddle boards, Arbor snowboards and Lole active wear. There’s also a selection of mountain and road bicycles by Felt, Volagi and Parlee Cycles.
Renny is also a professionally certified bike mechanic and Sarah is a trained ski mechanic, allowing the Johnsons to provide tune-up services.
“I was surprised that there really was not a retail outfitter in this town,” Renny said. “For all the people that come to town or need clothes or services, there was just nothing like this available.”
The couple seized on that opportunity. Their vision from the beginning was to establish a unique, high-quality source for the abundant population of outdoor adventurers who have plenty of year-round activities to choose from in Northwest Montana.
“It’s an absolute outdoor mecca here through all the seasons,” Renny said. “It’s hard to live in this area and not take advantage of it. There are so many outdoor enthusiasts here.”
The Johnsons surveyed other outdoor retailers and began a door-to-door campaign through Bigfork, talking with neighbors and tapping into the communal culture.
“You have to be nimble. I’m always adjusting. We’re just trying to fit the needs of our clientele,” Renny said. “What do they really want? And how can we best meet their needs?”
Other aspects fell into place, too. Like the location. A former business emptied out of the Electric Avenue site, leaving vacant “an excellent location” for Montana Adventure Sports, Renny said.
The store’s friendly atmosphere fits the vibe that the Johnsons intended. One way of accomplishing that is thanks to the full-service espresso bar inside. Renny has experience as a barista in California and purposely incorporated a coffeehouse feel into the store.
“That’s a way to build the community,” he said. “We want people to feel comfortable to come in and just hang and have a coffee.”
Looking back on the last year, remembering how it all started with a napkin scrawled with ideas, Renny expresses astonishment at how much has occurred and how things have changed. The Johnsons have not only settled into a new business but they’ve settled into a new community with three young kids.
The streak of fond memories and exciting adventures in the Flathead continues.
“What I’ve loved about being here is how open the community has been and how helpful everyone has been,” Renny said. “I would also say that about my clients; everyone has just been wonderful and I’ve had amazing interactions. This has turned out better than expected.”
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