Friday, February 27, 2009

REI and The Compulsion to Buy

I'm a firm believer in the notion that the spice of life lies in being able to spend money frivolously, at least once in a while. For a long time, one of the primary beneficiaries of my whimsical consumerism was Recreational Equipment Incorporated, better known as REI. Over the years, I've bought all kinds of equipment, footwear, clothing, and books at REI related to hiking, caving, camping, backpacking, and climbing; however, I find myself buying less and less stuff there as time has gone on, and for multiple reasons. First, I naturally have acquired pretty much all the gear I can use, most of which is extremely durable, and my "frivolity" generally doesn't extend to replacing equipment just because the manufacturers have come out with new designs or models. Second, I liked the "old" REI store in Albuquerque, which was located down near Old Town (adjacent to the Natural History Museum), much better than the "new" store, which is located near the intersection of MontaƱo Road and I-25. (Years ago, I would periodically take a bit of an extended lunch on a slow work day to go look around the "old" store before stopping by the Sunset Memorial cemetery on the way back to visit my father's grave and polish up the headstone; now that REI has moved, however, I rarely visit either it or the cemetery.)

Third, I don't have as much disposable cash as I once had, so I've had to rein in my spending a little. Fourth, my interest in playing the electric guitar has expanded, and thus lately I've bought guitars and amplifiers where I once might have bought tents, backpacks, headlamps, or climbing shoes. Fifth, the rise of online outdoor-gear vendors has often caused me to shop for better prices than REI typically offers. And, sixth, I guess I've come to regard REI as something of a "snob-a-torium" whose best customers are more interested in being seen wearing/using expensive outdoor clothing and gear than in the intrinsic utility that such clothing and gear represent. (I'm not above wanting to own name-brand clothing and gear -- although I'll never pay $400 for the latest "technical" shell jacket or $600 for a backpacking tent -- but neither am I above wearing very comfortable and durable "convertible" hiking pants, as I am doing as I write this, that I got on clearance at Wal-Mart for $9.00.)

Thus, I still go to REI once in a while to look around, but mostly I leave without buying anything. I must confess, however, that at this moment I'm waiting for a new pair of Vasque hiking boots to be delivered to the REI store here that I purchased on the "REI-Outlet" website. Sometimes I still can't resist temptation!