Board Silly

Twenty years ago, when we first wrote about the Alpine Shop in South Burlington, it was owned by Chuck and Jann Perkins, the parents of Peg Rieley, pictured with her husband, Scott, who bought the business in 1993. Much has changed in 20 years, but the dedication remains.

The Alpine Shop keeps on sticking

by Tom Gresham

A tree has rings to mark its age; the Alpine Shop has additions. Eight times in its 41 years, the store's facility on Williston Road in South Burlington has been expanded, growing outward from an original 40-by-40-foot house like the image in a general's fieldglass as it's pulled to its full size. Each addition has its own distinct feel so that walking through the shop, one can sense the years unfold.

The size of the store is not the only thing that has changed, of course. The Alpine Shop is no longer just a ski shop. The store also does a brisk business in bicycling and tennis equipment. The operation has also grown beyond the "mom and pop" feel it once had. The loft above the front door where original owners Jann and Chuck Perkins aka Mom and Pop once lived now hosts sales.

"It's definitely very different," says Peg Rieley, the Perkinses' daughter and co-owner of the Alpine Shop with her husband, Scott.

Peg is quick to point out, however, that the Alpine Shop remains successful for many of the same reasons the business thrived under her parents' guidance. Knowledgeable customer service is still at the center of the store's ethos, she says, and a brimming enthusiasm for the products permeates the air. The Rieleys' ability to retain the intimacy of the original incarnation of the Alpine Shop, while steering it through growth and progress, has kept the store's generations of repeat customers coming back.

Shops like the Alpine Shop are becoming more and more rare, says Scott, as customers turn toward larger sports supply stores for equipment.

Sam Fielder manages the repair shop, which is situated in the basement with the leasing operation.

"There are some like us left on the East Coast, but not many," he says. "We're lucky to be where were are. There's such a dominant ski culture here in Vermont. It's not a sport for people up here; it's a lifestyle. Our customers are not the type of people who get some skis and throw them in the closet. They're passionate about getting out there and skiing. And they know we're that way, too."

The Alpine Shop retails hard and soft goods. Jackets, sweaters and other clothes greet customers near the front door. Ski and snowboarding equipment, bicycles and tennis gear are farther back. The basement holds not only a repair shop but also a leasing operation. Customers can lease skis for an entire season. The leasing idea, which was instituted almost 10 years ago, has proven to be popular with customers, particularly those with children who tend to quickly grow out of a pair of skis.

Scott, who came to Vermont at age 3, and Peg, a Burlington native, have been skiing for nearly as long as they've been walking. The Williston residents have three children: Max is 6, Bella is 4, and Micah, an adopted child from Korea, is 17 months. The two oldest are already avid skiers.

"They're really good at it," Scott says, "and they love doing it, too."

Peg says her parents treated skiing with reverence in their store, and she and her husband have continued that attitude.

"The underlying goal in this store is to keep people skiing who already ski, to introduce new people to skiing and to make it as easy as possible for them to get out on the hill," Scott says, "so we're going to do whatever we can do to introduce more people to the sport."

Leasing skis is one of many ways the Rieleys have made their mark on the business they purchased in 1993. They also started selling bicycling and tennis equipment "It was a natural tie-in with our customers," Peg says and opened a branch of the store in Middlebury in 1998.

They would consider opening another location, but only in an ideal spot.

"We don't want to operate somewhere the shop would not be unique, where it's just one of many," Scott says. "We're looking for a highly special location for any new stores, so we take our time."

Scott and Peg have known each other most of their lives. Their families were close when they were growing up, often getting together for dinners or other outings. Scott is good friends with Peg's older brother, Chuck Perkins, and Peg is close to Scott's younger sister, Erin.

The two did not date in high school or college, however. It was not until they were adults and Scott joined his sister and Peg for dinner one night that romance bloomed.

They were married in July 1993 and owned the Alpine Shop by October, taking over when the Perkinses decided to enter semi-retirement. Scott had been enjoying his job in commercial real estate at Pomerleau Real Estate, but the prospect of running his own business was too attractive to ignore.

The Alpine shop employs about 60 people in peak season, and the Rieleys emphasize promoting from within. Allison Frazier, the store manager, started as a gift wrapper.

"When this opportunity came up, I saw a chance to be my own boss and chart my own course," he says. "I couldn't turn that down."

Scott clearly has the wherewithal and attitude for being self-employed. As a junior at the University of Vermont, Scott was eager to live outside his parents' house, so he persuaded his father, Sheldon, to purchase a house divided into apartments on Buell Street. Scott managed the apartments while he attended school.

The arrangement worked so well that Scott and his father began to buy additional buildings in Burlington. Today, the Rieley Properties partnership owns approximately 150 units. Scott says he spends a large portion of his time managing the properties. His attention most keenly turns to the Alpine Shop during the winter season Sept. 1 to April 1 when the ski and snowboarding retail facets are in focus.

The Rieleys say their management style differs sharply from that of their predecessors. Jann and Chuck Perkins did everything in the Alpine Shop when they owned it, managing every detail of the operation. Chuck, Scott says, "opened the door every morning and locked it every night."

Not surprisingly, retirement has not been an inactive one for the Perkinses. They still own various properties, says Scott, and continue to work hard and play hard. They travel extensively, often to far-flung destinations untrampled by tourists. For instance, in early September, the Perkinses were bound for the Aleutian Islands off Alaska, sleeping on the deck of a mail boat. Peg says her parents might be going to Antarctica this year ... again.

Scott and Peg express admiration for the Perkinses, smiling at their various exploits and accomplishments with disbelieving shakes of the head.

"My father-in-law is kind of nuts," Scott says. "He gets up and goes from morning to night, often hard physical labor. He's an 18-year-old in a 72-year-old's body. He's been very successful, and he seems to have done it through sheer brute force."

Similarly, when Scott and Peg bought the Alpine Shop, they worked seven days a week from daybreak to past nightfall. They lived in Stowe at the time, and the goal was to get back to a local restaurant before its kitchen closed at 10 p.m., Peg says.

Ultimately, the Rieleys decided they needed to delegate authority at work and create sane schedules for each other, particularly when Max was born. They developed a completely new management structure for the store, which has about 60 employees in peak season. Scott serves in an oversight role for the entire operation, while Peg handles the shop's buying and some daily management.

Originally published in October 2004 Business People-Vermont