Mountain Equipment Co-Op

$$ Sports Wear, Outdoor Gear

Mountain Equipment Co-Op

Full Description


In 1971, a group of west coast mountaineers made a decision to do business differently, and they turned an unconventional retail model into a thriving business. It hasn’t always been easy – MEC has weathered some epic storms. But as we grew older and a little wiser, we learned our grassroots foundation holds up over time: make things happen, deal fairly, find strength in community, and inspire adventure.


In the late sixties and early seventies, climbing in Vancouver wasn’t yet mainstream and climbing gear was hard to find. If you wanted a rope or an ice axe to explore a route in the local mountains, your best bet was to cross the border and gear up at REI in Seattle.

The idea of making gear available in Canada surfaced on a trip to Mount Baker in 1970. A group of four climbers, socked in at the base of the glacier, had nothing to do but sit in their tent and talk. Through the weekend, the talk of opening a gear store crystalized into a commitment to start something like REI in Canada, a co-op with low mark-up, operating with democratic principles.

“I had begun to see co-operative economics as a viable alternative to private ownership.” – Jim Byers, MEC founding member

Initially, they considered a structure that would have been primarily for the benefit of the founders: a group of 10 or 12 people selling gear to the public. But ultimately, they decided that the business would be a consumer co-operative with an unlimited number of equal membership shares, and that they would sell quality gear for rock climbing, mountaineering, ski mountaineering, and hiking. They decided to charge $5 for a membership share, and with this limited operating capital, people who wanted products would have to pay for them in advance and trust the Co-op to deliver.


Equipment was purchased wholesale from REI and another small Seattle-based company, MSR. With a lean mark-up of 20%, the new Co-op could buy wholesale, pay duties, and be competitive in the Vancouver market. Gradually they could afford to purchase a few items without advance payment. They drove them around to outdoor club meetings, where they would show off the gear and talk to people about co-operative operations.

For its first three years, the Co-op was run solely by volunteers. There were no paid employees until the business could support a store with regular hours and gear on the shelves. These early stores weren’t so much places to buy stuff as they were places to hang out, plan trips, get advice, and talk about gear.


Things weren’t easy at the start. There were disagreements, there wasn’t much money, there were vendors who refused to sell to a co-op that didn’t charge the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, but the philosophical attachment to doing business differently was powerful. The founding members and many others who joined them were willing to give time and energy and to be steady patrons.

Fuelled by members who believed in being part of a co-operative enterprise, MEC thrived, and continues to demonstrate the best of what business can be in our society.


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