published Monday, October 29th, 2012

Chattanooga outdoor store, The Gear Closet, raises money for clean water

  • photo
    Danielle Anderson wears Vasque boots, $40; Carhartt pants, $8; Outdoor Research gaiters, $4; Venus wind jacket, $5; hand-knitted hat $5; headlamp, $10; and Forever 21 sunglasses, $5. The gear includes an American Trails tent, $25; Alpenlite External Frame backpack, $15; Kelty sleeping bag, $20; and a camp stool, $3. Fashions and equipment courtesy of The Gear Closet.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
    enlarge photo

If you go

* What: The Gear Closet.

* Where: 535 Cherokee Blvd.

* Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday.

* Phone: 414-1292.

* Website: gearcloset.org.

No one loves a clean river, lake or creek more than the people who spend time in it. Whether it's for recreation or work, clean water is also important to everyone who drinks it.

Chattanoogan Mary Beth Sutton is dedicated to educating people about clean water. An effective way to do it, she said, is to get them outdoors to enjoy waterways recreationally.

Because Chattanooga offers so many water hobbies, she and a group of supporters recently opened a Cherokee Boulevard shop called The Gear Closet, which sells gently used outdoor clothing and gear at reduced prices.

Sutton is dedicated to clean waterways. For years, she has practiced clean-water advocacy through CaribbeanSEA (Student Environmental Alliance), a nonprofit educational organization she founded in 2004. The local branch of CaribbeanSea is TenneSEA, Kids 4 Clean Water.

The purpose of the organization is to educate young people and their communities about water and why it is necessary for life, she said.

At The Gear Closet, 100 percent of net proceeds go back to clean water, Sutton said.

"We have very low expenses. Rock/Creek Outfitters (a locally owned outerwear and outdoor equipment store) helped with lots of the store fixtures, and our goal is to fund more clean water projects through income we earn," she said.

"If folks can get gear pretty inexpensively, they might spend more time outside. If you spend more time outside, then you appreciate it more and are less likely to pollute or take it for granted."

Signal Mountain resident Berry Shults is one of many local outdoor enthusiasts helping Sutton with the store.

"All the items in The Gear Closet come from the public in the form of consignment items or donations," Shults said. "One week we may have three kayaks, 26 fleece jackets and four bike baby strollers and the next week eight tents, zero fleece jackets and four bicycles. It simply depends upon what is brought to us that week."

Shults said community response to the store has been positive.

"Gear is one of those things you usually have to purchase to try out," she said. "As a result, the adventurous sorts -- or parents of adventurous children -- end up buying gear, investigating the sport and either loving it and wearing the gear out or realizing the sport is not their cup of tea. That is where The Gear Closet comes into the picture."

A typical inventory may include golf clubs, tents, fishing poles, foosball tables, cross-country skis, sleeping bags, kayaks and bicycles. There are also sports fashions such as biker shorts, ski jackets and pants, scarves, caps and gloves, she said.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Major Chris Calhoun of Chattanooga said there was a big need for an outdoor thrift/consignment store in the Chattanooga community.

"The outdoor community is everywhere here," Calhoun said. "With the addition of The Crash Pad downtown, traveling explorers are looking for an expensive way to get gear while visiting or finding a way to repair damaged gear."

Calhoun said many of the items in stock have been donated.

Retail prices of outdoor gear can be expensive, he said.

"The prices may be outside the reach of many people who want to get involved, or even just test the waters, when it comes to adventure training," he said.

"Since opening, The Gear Closet has sold about eight used kayaks and one new kayak that was donated," he said. "Many people want to try this sport before spending about $1,000 to get on the water, and The Gear Closet provides them with a great way to do that."

The business helps fund Sutton's organization in its grassroots effort to promote clean-water education.

"We started in the Caribbean and now also work extensively in this region because water is life, and we really cannot take it for granted," she said. "I went to the Alexandra Cousteau program at the (Tennessee) Aquarium a couple of weeks ago, and she said it so well: 'Water is the ink with which we write the story of life. Without it, there is no life.' That's why we have to take care of our water. It is precious."

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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