Brick and mortar retail still exists and is worth your extra time.
Brick and mortar retail still exists and is worth your extra time. (iStock)

The Greatest Mountain Shop in America

Before Amazon and big-box stores, mountain shops like Eastside Sports dotted the West. Now, it's one of the last survivors.

Man in sports & outdoor store buying items for outdoor activities.

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You don’t have to covet 80-meter climbing ropes or be a gram­obsessed through-hiker to understand what makes Eastside Sports in Bishop, California, the greatest mountain shop in America. All you need to know is that the place, open since 1977 and known as Wilson’s (for the former owner), long ago transcended gear-store status to become one of the great community centers and devotional sites for alpine purists and dirtbags. Packed to the ceiling with more obscure and ­hyper-specialized toys than anyone could use in a lifetime, and staffed by weathered veterans who spend their days off trail-running barefoot and establishing new climbing routes, Wilson’s reassures road-weary adventurers that they have come home.

Nestled between Mount Whitney and Yosemite National Park, just shy of the Nevada state line, Wilson’s occupies a nondescript glass storefront on a small-town-America Main Street between Raymond’s Deli and Valley Florist. A short list of nearby playgrounds includes the Pacific Crest Trail, the John Muir Trail, too many cold and swimmable lakes to count, lift-served skiing and mountain biking at Mammoth Mountain, bolted sport climbing at the Owens River Gorge and half a dozen other nearby crags, natural hot springs on federal grazing land, and the Buttermilks bouldering area, where frequently there are enough Sprinters and Vanagons in the parking lot to make it feel like a #vanlife meetup.

At Wilson’s, you’ll find the bouldering crowd on benches in the back, hunting for shoes that cup their heel bones just right to stick the crux heel hook on their V8 project in the Milks. Dusty and wiry PCT types push open the glass front doors with a look of purpose in their eyes, hungry for that rare titanium cookware or pair of wool socks that shop owner Chris Iversen, who browses through-hiker chat rooms for hints to whatever gear is currently hot, almost certainly has stocked.

In those long-gone days before Amazon and big-box stores eviscerated brick and mortar retail, mountain shops like Wilson’s—where you could outfit yourself for everything from a month in the backcountry to a five-day ascent of El Capitan—dotted the American West. Wilson’s isn’t the sole survivor; Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, Colorado, comes to mind. But no remaining shop anywhere plays a role this clutch in a mountain town so world-class that cognoscenti routinely set aside entire afternoons just to spend time inside.