“It’s about way more than just skiing.” So says Lucinda Vermeulen, owner of Kenver, Ltd. the outdoor specialty store in South Egremont that is famous for its atmosphere.
When Lucinda’s late husband Ken Vermeulen founded the business with Ernie Beckwith in Great Barrington in 1959, the focus of the business was rather different. Both men were avid hunters and outdoorsmen and, Lucinda laughs, “if you can imagine, they used to hang deer on Railroad Street, with everybody walking around in neon orange!”
Soon, however, Ken Vermeulen moved the business to its current location in Egremont. The iconic building, which dates back to 1731 and once served as a stagecoach stop, had been decimated by fire, but the beautiful marble floors, high ceilings, and original beams were still intact, and they captured Vermeulen’s fancy.
At Kenver, it all starts with the feeling you get when you walk in the door. “We want you to feel like the store is wrapping its arms around you. There are antiques everywhere, we have apples and cider by the door; it’s a wonderful country space.” The goal is to always exceed expectations, both in quality of goods and in customer service. Across 24,000 square feet of space, Kenver has a diverse offering of sportswear, home goods, children’s apparel, skis, snowboards, skates, cross country skis, and snowshoes, along with a dog boutique. In the summer, they sell and rent bicycles.
In addition, Vermeulen notes, “there’s no hard sell; no one works on commission. Everyone at Kenver loves talking about what they’re selling.” She commends her staff for their dedication to finding the right fit for each customer. For example, Kenver provides seasonal equipment rentals to families who are not ready to buy. “It was important to Ken that everyone could get on skis, no matter their pocketbook,” Lucinda remembers.
Lucinda came to the business when she married Ken Vermeulen in 1983. She already had extensive experience buying for department stores, and to this day, she says, her main job at Kenver is buying. “What inspires me most is the visual merchandising. I am good at seeing what will catch people’s attention, and creating displays that pull together a look.” She does not lay things out according to manufacturer, she says, because “I don't think people dress like that.” Instead, she and her staff arrange displays by color, sometimes including surprises, like a book.
Taking BerkShares, Vermeulen says, is “a natural progression in our focus on conscious retailing and community connection,” including an interest in carrying local products. Vermeulen points to Patagonia’s ‘traceable down’ initiative as one example of a growing awareness of the implications of how and where products are made. “When you look at what I would call ‘common denominator products’ they tend to be produced in ways that I’m not comfortable with. Also, because of the way that the product is marketed, it ends up being almost always on sale. I don’t think that way of business is sustainable. I am much happier offering products that have real value.” That’s why, she says, the Kenver team is always going to trade shows, asking lots of questions, and choosing carefully. “We try to be distinctive and special, and to offer the best quality.”
The local currency also fits into Kenver’s identity as a solidly brick-and-mortar establishment that has chosen to eschew online sales in favor of in-person relationships. “It feels good to spend BerkShares, and that’s what I’d like Kenver to stand for.” BerkShares add another layer of warmth to what Kenver has always offered. As Vermeulen says, “If you get cold, ours is the place to be, because we have so much to make you cozy.”