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Onion River Sports Builds Local Community Through Outdoor Adventure and Retail

By Kelly Church

Since 1974, Onion River Sports has provided local adventurists with a place to get their favorite outdoor gear. The Montpelier, VT storefront was opened by two local cyclists, Jack Nash and Warren Kitzmiller, who were instrumental in starting the Stowe Bike Club. Eventually, their passion for the cycling club morphed into Onion River Sports so Nash and Kitzmiller could spread their love for the sport even further. In 2000, Andrew Brewer bought the store after working as a longtime employee for Onion River Sports.

"Onion River Sports is more than just a store," Brewer said. "It's really a community."

In addition to selling favorite outdoor brands like Patagonia, The North Face, Yakima and more for biking, hiking, camping, running and many other outdoor activities, the store also created its very own bike race that supports the local community and economy, The Muddy Onion.

"The Muddy Onion spring classic in late April is a fully-supported gravel ride jumpstarting the spring riding season and showcasing some of Vermont's most scenic back roads," Caroline Zeilenga said. "Not only does this event bring out a terrific collection of local riders, but it also brings a large number of tourists into Montpelier from across New England and beyond."

The Muddy Onion celebrated its fifth year in 2017. The 34-mile race ends in the Onion River Sports parking lot and features a post-race celebration and free barbecue.

Zeilenga said aid stations on this ride feature chocolate-dipped bacon and maple syrup shots, which are favorites every year. After the race, riders can revel in a group barbecue that features dishes and drinks from local farms and breweries. Zeilenga said this event is Onion River Sports' way of contributing to keeping the city "vibrant" since many visitors end up spending the entire weekend in the area, shopping and enjoying local restaurants.

At Onion River Sports, the staff doesn't just work there, but they practice what they preach outside of work hours, too. Zeilenga said the staff plays just as hard as they work which puts them in a knowledgeable position for their customers.

"Our staff knows a lot about the gear we sell and use, but we take the time to listen to our customers to understand what it is they need or what problem we can help them solve," Zeilenga said. "Our customers are our community and our community is the best on Earth, so there's nothing that matters more to us than fostering our relationships with our customers."

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