Warm weather is on the way, and so is the time to take advantage of the great outdoors. Bushwacker, a privately owned generalist outdoor specialty shop, might have what you need to get out there.
Rich Pestien has owned the business for 43 years. He started working part time at the Champaign location 45 years ago.
“I was a math nerd in college at U of I and I got into a rock climbing club, I think in my sophomore year, and that was a life I had never been exposed to,” Pestien said. “I was working on a master in computer science at the time then too, but kept working more and more at the store, less and less on my masters. I had all my coursework done and then in ‘75, the partners there asked if I wanted to invest a few thousand dollars and become a partner in Bushwacker.”
The business expanded as one partner opened a store in 1975 at Springfield. Pestien opened the Peoria location in 1976. It was originally where One World Cafe is currently located, before later moving to Metro Center and finally, its current location.
“We did well for a while; we were strictly cross country skis, warm clothing and backpacking,” Pestien said. “Then a funny thing happened: all the hippies grew up, got married, had kids, stopped backpacking, so that market deteriorated. And then it also stopped snowing in the Midwest about that same time, so our cross country business went downhill and all my partners jumped off an extremely quickly sinking ship and left me to bail it out.”
Once the Springfield and Champaign locations closed, the Peoria store expanded from only backpacking. They now sell road bikes, mountain bikes, city bikes, backpacks, day packs, footwear, skis, snowboards, hiking shorts, hiking shirts, hiking pants, seasonal clothing, patio furniture and more.
“My most popular item would be biking accessories, so the clothes that you wear while you’re biking,” Bushwacker employee Trace Dornon said. “In the winter, the Patagonia better sweater is our best selling item. Bikes are really popular in the summer; we’ll probably do six, seven, eight bikes a day in the summer on a busy day.”
When visitors come to the store, employees can teach them about outdoor activities and customers may test out bikes or try on clothes. Bushwacker has come to the Bradley Fit Fair and worked with the Triathlon Club in the past.
“I know from experience, college age kids, we like adventure, having fun,” Dornon said. “[Bushwacker] caters to Bradley students because I know a lot of my friends that go to Bradley like to ski and snowboard and we’re one of the only businesses in town that has that equipment. We’re decently close to Bradley as well.”
Bushwacker hosts kayaking, orienteering and trail running events at local parks. They also lead mountain biking on Thursday evenings and women’s rides on Wednesday nights.
“We just like to help get people outside,” Pestien said.
Bushwacker is located 5728 N. Knoxville Ave. in the Junction City Shopping Center.