After 23 years of serving the outdoors community, gear retailer Ascent Outdoors has permanently closed its stores in Redmond and Ballard and its partner store, Ascent Cycles, also in Ballard. The company has made no official announcement, but last weekend, several patrons noticed their stores were closed and posted images on social media of a sign on the door of the Ballard location that stated it was “no longer open for business.”

Ascent Outdoors and Ascent Cycles’ owner Solon Scott has not yet responded to The Seattle Times’ multiple attempts to contact him.

In response to an email request for an interview, an auto-reply email from Scott’s account stated “Ascent Outdoors/Cycles is closed for business and going through Bankruptcy,” and directed business inquiries to Neeleman Law Group.

A search of federal bankruptcy filings turned up no records under Ascent Outdoors’ or Solon Scott’s names. Attorney Thomas D. Neeleman of Neeleman Law Group confirmed in a brief phone interview Wednesday that Ascent Outdoors has not yet filed for bankruptcy, but said, “The intent is to file.”

According to an Ascent Outdoors employee who asked to remain anonymous out of respect for the owner, there were signs of financial issues at the store leading into this quarter. He said the owners opened the Redmond store in August last year hoping that its revenue would help maintain the other shops, but the new store did not get enough traffic.

“[It] sounds like he spent a lot of his personal capital to try to keep the shops open,” the employee said.

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The employee said staff members were told about the store’s closure on Saturday night after they finished their last shift and they were assured that they would receive pay for their last two weeks worked.

“He did a lot of good work taking care of his staff as long as he could before things became untenable for him personally,” the staffer said. “[I’ve] got a lot of respect for the guy, but still [it’s] pretty hard for all the rest of the staff, of course.”

Ascent Outdoors opened as Second Bounce in 1993 before being sold to Greg and Paula Shaw. In 2001, the store expanded to become a full-service outdoor retailer and bike shop, moved to the Ballard neighborhood and changed its name to Second Ascent.

In 2014, the Shaws sold the business to Solon Scott who rebranded the company as Ascent Outdoors and opened a separate storefront to house the bike shop, Ascent Cycles. In 2018 they opened a second outdoors retail location in Redmond.

Regular customers of Ascent Outdoors have expressed surprise, confusion and sadness on social media about the store’s closure. Some customers complained about store credit they’d received for trade-ins made just days before the closing. Others focused on concern about the employees who’d lost their jobs.

“This was posted in every forum that I follow. At some point on Sunday someone went over there and took a picture and posted it. Then I got a number of text messages from friends. It really did reverberate throughout the community and quite immediately,” said Kristina Ciari, director of communications and membership for The Mountaineers, a non-profit outdoors community.

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Ascent Outdoors and The Mountaineers have regularly partnered on outdoors education events and deals since the store opened 23 years ago. Their joint events included an annual gala and sales nights for The Mountaineers members, during which the store would stay open late and offer a 20% discount to members. A “Gear Night” event was actually scheduled for Wednesday at Ascent Outdoors, for students of The Mountaineers’ “Intense Basic Alpine Climbing” course.

“Ascent Outdoors really was a wonderful hub for the outdoors community in Seattle. They hosted people from all different types of outdoor activities,” Ciari said. “We’ve always sent our students there for the great deals and really excellent customer service. … We’re just really sad to see them gone. People seem confused as to what happened and why they shut down so quickly.”

But Ciari hopes that other local shops will “step up to the plate” and host events. She cited Arcteryx and the new Wonderland Gear Exchange as some shops that might be up to the challenge.

“[Wonderland Gear Exchange is] already part of the outdoors community in the Pacific Northwest and they seem really keen to hopefully host more events in the future as they get their feet under them,” Ciari said.

Guided by a passion for making outdoors gear financially accessible and creating an environmentally sustainable business, co-owners Ben Mawhinney and Nate Seiberling opened Wonderland Gear Exchange as a 100% consignment shop in December 2018. Mawhinney said in a phone call Tuesday that their shop was complementary to rather than in competition with stores like Ascent Outdoors.

We weren’t competing on a retail level with Ascent or other outdoor retailers,” said Mawhinney. “For us it was more that we were now hopefully continuing to create Ballard and the Ballard area as the place to go to shop local for outdoor gear. Whether you’re looking to buy it used or new, you have a lot of options in one space. So while none of us can be as big as REI, at least within a short radius you could hopefully have an opportunity to shop for things that you need for outdoor adventures.”

Mawhinney feels optimistic about creating a sustainable business model for Wonderland Gear Exchange, but said that he understands the difficulties facing small businesses like Ascent in Seattle.

“As a small business, we know how hard it is to operate a small business in Seattle. It’s only getting harder,” he said. “We’re optimistic that we have something going here. We’re gonna work really hard to make it sustainable. I think any small business when you see another small business close, it’s scary, just a reminder of how tenuous it can be.”

In the meantime, Ascent’s longtime customers and employees continue to mourn the loss of a store that was central to Seattle’s outdoors community.

Ascent Cycles general manager Aaron Turner recorded a somber message on the store’s voicemail confirming that all stores are closed for business and thanking “everybody that’s been coming in here for a long time, or even just a short time.”

The message also invited any patrons who have bikes in the shop to leave a voicemail to arrange pickup. The voicemail at Ascent Outdoors’ Ballard shop was full as of midday Monday.

“All the friends I’ve made here, I’m gonna miss it,” Turner said in the voicemail message. “I hope you can leave me a message. I’d love to hear from you all.”

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This story has been updated to clarify the change in ownership of the store now known as Ascent Outdoors.

This story was updated on May 2 at 2:12pm to correct information about the original ownership of Second Bounce and clarify that the store has always sold both used and new gear.