by Charles R. Drago, Editor, OEL Magazine
How else could Lewis and Clark have made it all the way there and back again? How else could Burton have discovered the source of the Nile? How else could Stanley have found Livingstone? How else could Teddy Roosevelt have mapped the River of Doubt?
The history of great expeditions as we appreciate it today could not have been written if the courageous explorers who walk like giants through it had not been outfitted with the finest shooting and survival gear of their respective times.
The names and locations of these expedition outfitters are largely lost to history. So to honor them and their nameless proprietors, I’ve chosen to focus on two American companies that, each in their distinctive ways, are worthy of the comparisons.
In 1892, David Abercrombie founded Abercrombie Co. in Manhattan. An outdoor enthusiast in his own right, he focused on well-heeled clientele who pursued what for some was a call to adventure, for others a rich man’s fad. His wares were as utilitarian as they were very upscale, making them, in terms of their marketability (and to beg your pardon for the onrushing pun), capable of killing two birds with one precious stone.
Abercrombie’s broadly defined clientele included Ezra Fitch, a wealthy New York lawyer who fished and climbed upstate. In 1900, Fitch was allowed to purchase a significant amount of company stock. Four years later, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. went public, and the partners went to the bank. Often.
In 1907 Abercrombie took his leave of the business he had founded – one that soon entered a period of profound growth and prosperity. A&F, as I’ll now refer to the company, holds the distinction of being the first New York store to sell clothes to men and women. Fitch, a marketing visionary of sorts (at least he gets the credit; I suspect there may have been a brilliant, forever uncredited creative consultant behind the success – or so I’d love to believe), subsequently occupied a twelve story headquarters store on Madison Avenue.
The A&F flagship emporium helped define contemporary retail excess. It boasted everything from a shooting range, to an indoor pool where fly-fishing techniques were taught, to an art gallery and a bookstore.
A&F also was known for its catalog, originally topping out at 400-plus pages. Expeditions very often were led by gentlemen and ladies of high standing able to equip themselves with the finest bespoke rifles and shotguns and clothing that, depending on one’s perspective, was ruggedly elegant or elegantly rugged.
Satellite stores would open across the country, and A&F made a valiant effort through the early 1970s to maintain their standards. But the one wilderness that its owners could not negotiate was that inhabited by a value-hungry populous whose changing social values did not support the activities which David Abercrombie set out to service.
After efforts to rebrand the company failed, A&F declared bankruptcy in 1976. Today, the venerable Abercrombie & Fitch Co. has been reconstituted as nothing more than a cookie-cutter mall brand.
Yet the tradition, the spirit, the promise of Messrs. Abercrombie and Fitch, for so long dormant in the U.S., at last has been reborn.
Imagine my excitement when, having undertaken a prolonged chair-bound expedition of my own to discover a living A&F heir, I tracked down The Sporting Shoppe at The Preserve at Boulder Hills.
The Sporting Shoppe is housed in a new, 15,000 sf space that blends luxury and functionality in inimitable ways. From the most prestigious, coveted bespoke shotguns, rifles and knives on the planet that truly qualify as functional art, to the finest handguns, to expedition clothing that brilliantly melds function and fashion, to every imaginable piece of equipment, supplies, and accessory demanded by today’s outdoor enthusiast for whom expense is justified only by excellence, The Sporting Shoppe exists in the grand tradition of history’s great expedition outfitters.
It even stocks formal wear, cigars, and gardening tools of the highest quality – perfect for armed expeditions in search of the elusive tomato and eggplant.
Headquartered in the heart of what in my experience is the most amenities-rich sporting resort in America, The Sporting Shoppe is an adventure unto itself. The sights that await in its gun rooms and aisles seem to define “big game” of a certain sort: elusive, challenging, and ultimately accessible only to those who know and care.
Captivated by a four-barrel FAMARS Rombo shotgun, custom engraved? Eager to take the measure of a Sig Sauer P220R Equinox? Does the thought of an Abel Super Series 9/10N reel tempt you to get your feet wet? Would a Swarovski Atx/stx 85mm Modular Objective Lens spotting scope bring the world into focus?
This is not an ad for The Sporting Shoppe. I ask you to forgive my enthusiasm in the wake of having discovered this splendid throwback to a more romantic, more sophisticated time. But don’t think for a moment that The Sporting Shoppe at The Preserve at Boulder Hills is some sort of charming anachronism. This expedition outfitter has found a way to peer into history and define the future simultaneously.
See for yourself.