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COVID-19 leads to second wave of outdoor gear demand

Sporting goods stores say COVID-19 is fueling record interest in outdoor activities, but the virus is also still slowing down the supply chain.

MINNEAPOLIS — Though Minnesota is setting records for early snowfall totals, sporting goods retailers say it doesn't compare to the record demand they're already seeing for snow-related gear.

"We've had a lot of people coming in and asking about skis and snowshoes," said Sheridan Braun, "October is usually a slow month for that stuff, but we were getting calls as early as August."

Braun attributes most of the interest with more people wanting to get outside, even in the snow, during the pandemic. She says many are also anxious to act now, because they're worried about missing out.

"There's a lot of worry about how our inventory is going to be and if we're going to run out," Braun said.

There's good reason for concern. Sporting goods retailers across the country struggled to meet demand for outdoor gear this summer. Just as millions of Americans were clamoring for outdoor activities, many companies that manufactured boats, bikes and other gear were forced to suspend operations due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

By the time Midwest Mountaineering reopened it's store this spring, demand was through the roof and shipments were hard to come by.

"We were selling kayaks before they even arrived," Braun said. "We would have them on order and customers would come in and we'd tell them a little about the boat and they'd be like, 'I'm sold.' Let me know when it's here. Here's the money."

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Braun points out that they still only have one canoe on hand, but she's feeling a bit more optimistic about cold weather gear.

"We're trying to be ready for it," she said. "In some cases it's hard, but we're trying."

Right now, she says the biggest problem has been cold weather clothing.

"There's been some supply chain interruptions," she said. "Our insulated winter jackets and things like that are going to be tough. We're not getting all that we ordered and re-orders, we're hearing, are going to be really challenging."

But while you might want to scoop up a jacket for shoveling snow now, she said skis and snowshoes normally don't go on sale until at least November, so if you're willing to wait, patience might pay.

"Skis, we've actually done quite well and, as far as I know, have all come in or are coming in," Braun said. "Snowshoes, we've had a little bit of trouble, but it sounds like we're going to get them eventually. Just maybe not quite as early as we'd hoped. Not as early as our mid-October snowfall."

Several area sporting goods retailers report a similar early demand for everything from fat tire bikes to ice fishing supplies. Indoor training gear, such as exercise bikes, are also surging in popularity again. 

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