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. We got some chickens, made an attempt at a garden, and started a blog writing about all the restaurants, shops, waterfalls and trails we were discovering along with our reflections on moving to the mountains. After visiting the area for 15 years and seeing it through the eyes of a visitor, we hoped our blog would help visitors see 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 we could be in the middle of the outdoors in the place that we had visited for years.
After our chance meeting at the library we decided to eat lunch at UJ downtown after story time. By the end of lunch, both families had learned we were each looking for affordable office space for our 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 were over, we had decided to try and rent the little office space for our 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 we 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, we decided to make it official and try to chase the rabbit down the hole to see what was there.
A few days later, we simultaneously did two things.
First, we hosted our first “meet-up” for hiking and camping at Raven Cliff Falls. We expected a half dozen people to show up but almost 50 people ended up hanging out for the weekend.
And secondly, we created an online store, printed 10 stickers and posted them on Instagram. We thought we would end up having to give them away to friends but the stickers sold out in a couple of hours. We were blown away so over the next few days, we got about a dozen shirts made and reprinted the stickers. Within the next few days we were down to almost nothing again.
We began hosting events at our 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 we started throwing movies on the brick wall with a projector. We had birthday parties on the lawn, smashed piñatas on Fridays, and started grilling out after our hiking “meet-ups”. We called it “Party on the Porch” and created a Social Club.
Wander North Georgia was never a brand we were trying to “make big” but just an extension of our lifestyle wandering around the mountains. We wanted to hang out with our friends, give our kids something to do, and create a couple of shirts that we wouldn’t be embarrassed to wear ourselves.
We never really had plans to start a “brand” and for a variety of reasons. We were all already going 100 miles an hour with our day jobs (the Brown’s in website and graphic design and the Scott’s in the cycling industry). Our kids were a huge part of our lives and if we weren’t working we were at their baseball games or recitals. And we didn’t want to be another outdoor brand that just pushed product from an office or a cubicle. We wanted whatever we did to be relational. We wanted it to be meaningful.
So we got a wild idea.
We had some background in creating a website and social media platform from our time in Athens that focused on local small businesses. So we thought about how we could create a similar online platform while spreading the wandering spirit around? What if we could do the outdoor retail thing without it being detached from our lifestyle? What if we could leverage our online platform to shine a light on the people and places that mattered up here in the mountains?
So we decided on a rather simple vision. Brag on people. Stimulate community. Create jobs. And put more back into our particular place than we take out.
So we did it, rolled the proverbial dice, and decided to rent a space in downtown Clayton. We moved the office space for our day jobs to the back of the shop and had those jobs pay for office space to offset our rent. We worked all the shifts ourselves and when we weren’t helping customers, we were working “from home” just at our new “work”. Many of our customers will remember coming in and seeing us hard at work on the day jobs from the couch or the register.
We bought a huge chunk of astro turf and created an indoor bocce ball court, bought some corn hole boards and called it a lounge. We showed outdoor movies on a projector and when our kids were working with us at the shop, way too many Pixar movies.
We tried to treat every customer like an old friend. We smiled and meant it. We bragged on our neighboring businesses and restaurants. We sent people into the woods looking for a good fishing spot, or a kid friendly hike, or the darkest place to view stars. We hosted sleep overs in the back during snow days and sled down empty city streets at midnight. We printed free maps, hand drew hundreds more, told stories, and thanked people endlessly for their support that was making our 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). We had been tinkering around with Wander for almost 2 years now. We had evolved, adapted, and grown. We made some new friends and welcomed folks from all over the country into our little emerging tribe of wanderers. And we needed more space . . .
We have bigger ideas about how we can leverage our little corner of the universe to be a relational and cultural hub for the thousands of visitors who come to North Georgia. We need more room to carry our friend’s art. And their pottery. And their honey. We want to carry a larger assortment of hiking and camping goods alongside the same great selection of shirts, hats, and gifts we have now. We want to have a place where people can let their kids run out without worrying about breaking something. We want to have a place where you can have ice cream on a hot day and unwind after dinner downtown. We want a place where we can plant our flag in the ground and put roots down for the long haul. We want to create something sustainable and meaningful. Not just for us, but for our entire community.
So yeah. That’s our history. Past, present and future. And we hope you stick around and continue to follow our wanderings wherever they may lead us around North Georgia.