The great outdoors: New Franklin outfitter store proves a big hit with enthusiasts
With the explosion of outdoor sports over the past few decades in Western North Carolina, perhaps it shouldn’t come as that big a surprise another outfitting store has opened in the region.
But this one is different, in at least two ways: The guys running Outdoor 76 truly use the equipment and clothes they sell; and the gear-oriented store is located in downtown Franklin, a place known more for its older, retired population than its hit-the-woods types.
But things have been changing in Macon County, too. Franklin has bonded during the past few years with hikers on the nearby Appalachian Trail, even to the point of hosting a festival for them each year and winning an official “trail town” designation. And plenty of people here and in the neighboring communities — young, middle-aged and older — seem increasingly eager to experience the outdoor life.
That helps explain why Outdoor 76, co-owned by Rob Gasbarro and Cory McCall, has gone gangbusters since the store opened on Main Street 10 months ago.
“It’s really overwhelming, though in a good way,” said Gasbarro of the explosion in growth the outfitters are experiencing.
Outdoor 76 carries name brands such as Mountain Hardwear, Marmot, Patagonia, Scarpa, Vasque, Keen, Western Mountaineering, Salomon, MSR and more. Additionally, the two men offer guided hikes and trips, plus carry an impressive array of camping, hiking and paddling equipment. They also rent equipment.
“It’s owned and operated by enthusiasts,” Gasbarro said. “We do this because we love to do it.”
And as if opening a new store wasn’t enough, both Gasbarro’s and McCall’s wives are expecting babies. Each will have their first children, seven weeks apart, in December and February, respectively.
In the meantime, they are putting together an outdoor festival to take place Oct. 8-9 in Macon County, featuring an outdoor triathlon, 5K race, a frisbee-team tournament, disc-golf competitions, plus clinics on flyfishing, paddle sports and more.
How it came about
Gasbarro’s and McCall’s business partnership came about in an unusual fashion: they became buddies through church. Gasbarro, 35, had moved to Western North Carolina from Tampa, Fla., for a job with an engineering company. McCall, 29, a Franklin native, was working in real estate.
When the economic doldrums hit, Gasbarro’s job felt “iffy,” and real estate sales went into the toilet. The two fellows knew they needed to find other ways to make livings.
“If we’re going to struggle, we decided we might as well struggle for ourselves instead of someone else,” Gasbarro said.
And the idea for an outfitter store, jointly owned by these two outdoor enthusiasts, seemed a natural. Gasbarro had an extensive paddling background, and McCall, a longtime runner, had played around in a lot of outdoor sports.
Though many people just didn’t initially get why they’d want to chance on opening one in downtown Franklin. But the two men did their homework: Franklin’s Main Street, Gasbarro said, has the highest traffic count of any municipality west of Asheville.
Then Gasbarro pulled out maps of the region from beneath the store counter — look, he explained excitedly, Franklin is the hub of virtually every outdoor experience one can enjoy in WNC. Kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, trail running — you name it, and you can experience it within a short drive of Franklin. And if that weren’t enough, the major highways essentially all flow through, or connect into, Macon County — U.S. 441 and U.S. 64 principally.
“We’re better positioned to tap the metropolitan areas than anyone else,” he said of Franklin. “Location, location, location.”
McCall, too, felt comfortable about opening the store in his hometown.
“Franklin needed this,” he said between helping a customer decide on what shoes were needed. “Franklin needed an avenue to fulfill the needs of people who are outdoor enthusiasts.”
Other outdoor shops carrying gear, clothing and supplies in the region include Mast General Store in Waynesville, Blackrock in Sylva and Three Eagles in Franklin.
But the closest shop to Outdoor 76, as an outfitter that also offers guided tours and rentals, is the Nantahala Outdoor Center, but that’s far enough away not to pose problems. In fact, Outdoor 76 has a great relationship with NOC, Gasbarro said.