We opened our store in November of 2016 a few days before Thanksgiving with nothing more than an idea and a hope that people would stop by and say hello. Now that we have grown into a bigger location, we thought it might be helpful to stop and share a little bit of the history of Wander North Georgia, what our goal was then and what our vision is now.
Josh and Alex Brown moved to North Georgia from Athens in December of 2015 into a quiet 900 square foot cabin with no heating and air. They got some chickens, made an attempt at a garden, and started a blog writing about all the restaurants, shops, waterfalls and trails they were discovering along with their reflections on moving to the mountains. After visiting the area for 15 years and seeing it through the eyes of a visitor, they hoped their blog would help visitors get a glimpse of what it was like to be a “local” and give them a deeper appreciation for the people and places that called North Georgia home.
In April of 2016, The Brown’s met Jake and Courtney Scott at kid’s story time at the local library. The Scott’s also moved to the area with their 3 kids in July of 2015 from Ohio so that they could be in the middle of the outdoors in the place that they had also visited for years.
After their chance meeting at the library they decided to eat lunch at UJ downtown after story time. By the end of lunch, both families had learned they were each looking for affordable office space for their day jobs. Josh and Alex did graphic design, photography, and built websites while Jake did distribution and marketing in the cycling world and Courtney managed the books for other small businesses.
Jake mentioned that he knew of a small cinder block building with no heating and air (notice a theme?) that was about 200 square feet and dirt cheap. By the time lunch was over, they had decided to try and rent the little office space for their day jobs. In less than a few hours, the foundation for Wander and a new friendship had been set with people who had been strangers earlier in the day.
Once they moved into the small office, both families began talking about Wander and the possibilities of what it could be. At this time, Wander North Georgia was still nothing more than a blog and an Instagram page. However, whatever “it” was, people seemed to be into it and so over coffee at White Birch Provisions one morning, they decided to make it official and try to chase the rabbit down the hole to see what was there.
A few days later, they simultaneously did two things.
First, they hosted their first “meet-up” for hiking and camping at Raven Cliff Falls. They expected a half dozen people to show up but almost 50 people ended up hanging out for the weekend.
And secondly, they created an online store, printed 25 stickers and posted them on Instagram. They thought they would end up having to give them away to friends but the stickers sold out in a couple of hours. They were blown away so over the next few days, they got about a dozen shirts made and reprinted the stickers. Within the next few days they were down to almost nothing again.
They began hosting events at their office on the lawn out front. It started with a few friends bringing a chair and having a beer while the kids ran out in the grass. Then they started throwing movies on the old brick wall with a projector. They had birthday parties on the lawn, smashed piñatas on Fridays, and started grilling out after their hiking “meet-ups”. They called it “Party on the Porch” and created the North Georgia Social Club.
Wander North Georgia was never a brand they were trying to “make big” but just an extension of their lifestyle wandering around the mountains. They wanted to hang out with their friends, give their kids something to do, and create a couple of shirts that they wouldn’t be embarrassed to wear themselves.
They never really had plans to start a “brand” and for a variety of reasons. They were all already going 100 miles an hour with their day jobs (the Brown’s in website and graphic design and the Scott’s in the cycling industry). Their kids are a huge part of our lives and if they weren’t working they were at their baseball games or recitals. And they didn’t want to be another outdoor brand that just pushed product from an office or a cubicle. They wanted whatever they did to be relational. They wanted it to be meaningful.
So they got a wild idea.
The Browns had some background in creating a website and social media platform from their time in Athens that focused on local small businesses and The Scotts had some background running retail stores. So they thought about how we could create a similar online platform while spreading the wandering spirit around? What if they could do the outdoor retail thing without it being detached from their lifestyle? What if they could leverage their online platform to shine a light on the people and places that mattered up here in the mountains?
So they decided on a rather simple vision. Brag on people. Stimulate community. Create jobs. And put more back into their particular place than they took out.
So they did it, rolled the proverbial dice, and decided to rent a space in downtown Clayton. They moved the office space for their day jobs to the back of the shop and had those jobs pay for office space to offset the rent. They worked all the shifts themselves and when they weren’t helping customers, they were working “from home” just at their new “work”. Many of their customers will remember coming in and seeing them hard at work on the day jobs from the couch or the register.
They bought a huge chunk of astro turf and created an indoor bocce ball court, bought some corn hole boards and called it a lounge. They showed movies on a projector and when their kids were working with them at the shop, way too many Pixar movies.
They tried to treat every customer like an old friend. They smiled and meant it. They bragged on their neighboring businesses and restaurants. They sent people into the woods looking for a good fishing spot, or a kid friendly hike, or the darkest place to view stars. They hosted sleep overs in the back during snow days and sled down empty city streets at midnight. They printed free maps, hand drew hundreds more, told stories, and thanked people endlessly for their support that was making their world spin.
That leads us to October 2017. About this time Courtney, Alex, and Josh all began phasing out of their day jobs slowly (Jake still runs his cycling distribution company). They had been tinkering around with Wander for almost 2 years now. They had evolved, adapted, and grown. They made some new friends and welcomed folks from all over the country into their little emerging tribe of wanderers. And they needed more space . . .
They had bigger ideas about how they could leverage their little corner of the universe to be a relational and cultural hub for the thousands of visitors who came to North Georgia. They needed more room to carry their friend’s art. And their pottery. And their honey. They wanted to carry a larger assortment of hiking and camping goods alongside the same great selection of shirts, hats, and gifts they had at the old shop. They wanted to have a place where people could let their kids run out without worrying about breaking something. They wanted to have a place where they could have ice cream on a hot day and unwind after dinner downtown. They wanted a place where they could plant their flag in the ground and put roots down for the long haul. They want to created something sustainable and meaningful. Not just for us, but for the entire community.
So yeah. That’s the history. Past, present and future. And they hope you stick around and continue to follow their wanderings wherever they may lead them around North Georgia.