Business

Soko Outfitters wants you to know how to use the stuff you buy

Jamie Day of Ely, Iowa, puts in some climbing time on the climbing wall at Soko Outfitters, 41 16th Avenue SW, in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Jamie Day of Ely, Iowa, puts in some climbing time on the climbing wall at Soko Outfitters, 41 16th Avenue SW, in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Four outdoor enthusiasts have joined forces to make spending more time in the great outdoors more achievable for Eastern Iowans.

Steve Shriver, Ryan Sundermann, Steve White and Graig Cone opened their joint effort, Soko Outfitters, in Czech Village on Sept. 1. The store sells outdoor apparel and equipment such as tents, backpacks and climbing gear.

The store also features an indoor climbing wall molded from the rocks of Taylors Falls, a Midwest climbing crag located just north of the Minneapolis-St. Paul.

“We want this to be a destination retail location,” Sundermann said. “We don’t want people to come and just look at items on a rack.

“We want to give them opportunities to use their equipment. We want them to learn how to use the stuff they are buying.”

To that end, the store offers two-hour climbing 101 and beginner top rope lessons on Monday and Wednesday evenings. Private and group lessons also are available.

The owners envision adding other in-store classes — including yoga, First Aid and how to pack a backpack — in the coming months. They also are working with local travel agency Destinations Unlimited to develop “full-on adventure trips,” Sundermann said.

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“The preliminary plan is for a hiking trip in May,” he said. “And then mountain biking and kayaking after that. We’ll also offer programming to get in shape for the trips.”

Each of the partners has his own favorite outdoor activity. Sundermann, a doctor who specializes in emergency medicine, counts hiking, mountain biking and adventure racing among his most enjoyable pursuits.

Shriver is a mountaineering and climbing aficionado, Cone is a biker and runner, and White enjoys tennis.

The four men came together after the Czech Village building that houses the new store was vacated by not-for-profit Artisan’s Sanctuary in early 2017. Shriver, who owns the building, and Sundermann briefly had discussed opening an outdoor store there, but did not pursue the project.

Then White and Cone got involved.

“Graig and I always talked about opening an outdoor business,” recalled White, a commercial realtor. “We looked at the building and met with Ryan and Steve.”

The men found the building’s location to be especially appealing — next to the Cedar River, with its potential for water sports, adjacent to a popular bike trail and “in the foothills of Mount Trashmore,” Shriver said.

“It was the right time, the right place, and the right owner group,” he added.

The partners initially planned to name the business Sokol Outfitters — with “sokol” being a Czech word for gymnasium — but eventually shortened the name by one letter after learning “soko” means “there” in Japanese.

“It fits,” Shriver said. “We want to be there with you wherever you go.”

The store carries about 80 percent outdoor apparel and 20 percent hard goods, including many brands not otherwise found in the area and several locally-produced brands. The business also offers its own branded gear featuring the store’s map pin logo.

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The partners said they hope their new business inspires people to get out of their comfort zones and get outside. So far, it seems to be having that effect.

“The best thing I’ve heard from a customer is, ‘This makes me want to go do something,’” Shriver said.

l Know a business in operation for less than a year that would make an interesting “Ground Floor”? Let us know at michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

At a Glance

l Owners: Graig Cone, Steve Shriver, Ryan Sundermann and Steve White

l Business: Soko Outfitters

l Address: 41 16th Avenue SW, Cedar Rapids,

l Phone: (319) 200-4848

l Website: www.sokooutfitters.com

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