Where the new gear struts its stuff



February 09, 2003|By CANDUS THOMSON

SALT LAKE CITY - That great outdoorsman, Ed Sullivan, must have had the Outdoor Retailer trade shebang in mind when he said, "This is a really big shew."

Imagine a quarter of a million square feet of stuff that manufacturers hope will one day find its way into your closet, gear bag and camp. This show is where the folks who stock the shelves of outdoors stores learn about the latest jacket that will keep customers warm and dry in a tree stand while also brewing a killer cup of coffee and filling out their 1040 form.

An exaggeration? Maybe just a little.

The show has mega-companies, such as Columbia, just down the aisle from mom-and-pop entrepreneurs who've bet the retirement fund on a new glove to fight the wintertime phenomenon known as fingersicles.

Unfortunately, representatives from the big retail stores queue up to place orders for predictable stuff from the famous labels and virtually ignore the little guys.

"The major retailers want you to have a whole line of products," sighs Howard Shapiro as another representative blows by his little booth on the way to a big deal. "It's hard to get noticed. It's brutal."

That's too bad because some of the brightest ideas are hatched not by a research and development team enclosed in a glass cubicle, but by just plain folks who at one time or another wished for an extra pair of hands, one more layer of clothing or something to put something else in, and then acted on it. In other words, the stuff outdoorsmen and women can use.

Take Shapiro, a graphic designer from Chicago. He's designed a 20-ounce water bottle that both man and man's best friend can share without exchanging drool or backwash.

"I was out with my dog, Lucy, and she really needed a drink. I tried pouring a little water into my hand for her, but she wouldn't drink. I guess she didn't know where my hands had been," he says, laughing at the memory.

Shapiro went home and began fiddling with stuff around the house until he came up with the "Cool Pooch" bottle, which has a straw for humans and a red, martini-glass-shaped dish on top for dogs.

To fill the dish, just bend the straw down and squeeze the bottle. It's perfect to toss in the truck, backpack or john boat. The company is online at www.coolpooch.com.

"Hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, running, you can take it anywhere," Shapiro says. "And if you're traveling, it makes a great martini glass."

Or margarita glass. That's my kind of inventor.

Just across the way from Shapiro is a Baltimore company that's improved on the old winter standby of blowing on your fingers to defrost them.

Big Bang Products, which bills itself as "the official worldwide sponsor of snowball fights," has developed an insulated glove that has a little valve on the back of the hand to blow into. Warm breath is trapped inside to warm fingers while the fleece lining pulls moisture to the outside.

Company spokeswoman Natalie VanBuskirk says the internal air chambers in the gloves can turn the inside toasty in about three seconds.

The company, based near Camden Yards, also makes snazzy-looking sunglasses and ear warmers, but the gloves with the "Exhale Heating System" could be a hot item next season in more ways than one.

You can find them on the Web at www.180s.com.

Remember the ear-flapped cap Elmer J. Fudd wore when he hunted that wascally wabbit in so many cartoons?

Well, Bob Jacquart is hoping hunters, other winter sportsmen and fans of Fudd will want to don that wool cap when they head outdoors.

Jacquart, a resident of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, bought the century-old company last year to revive the "Stormy" Kromer cap, named after its inventor, a railroad engineer.

The fitted cap comes in more than a half-dozen colors, including original red and camo. Blaze orange will soon be in production. Check out the company and the Kromer legend at www.stormykromer.com.

Be like Mike? Nah, look like Elmer.

Anglers' flea market

If the twice-annual Outdoor Retailer gathering is show-and-tell, the Pasadena Sportfishing Group's flea market is buy-and-do.

The flea market, in its 11th year, has gobs of tackle, gizmos and boating supplies to help you pass the weeks until it's time to go fishing again.

Capt. George Bentz, the affable ringleader of the sportfishing group, says the flea market is to a fisherman what candy is to a kid. Well, as a card-carrying Candy, I concur.

Last year, I picked up a terrific Shimano saltwater rig and a Buck fillet knife for far less than I could find them anywhere else. (Exact dollar figure available on request. My spouse reads this column.)

When you throw in all the free advice available from charter boat captains, veteran anglers and state fisheries biologists and the hourly door prizes, the flea market is worth more than the $3 admission.

The show, at the Earleigh Heights Fire Hall on Ritchie Highway in Severna Park, attracts a big crowd. It runs Saturday and Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., with the crowds somewhat smaller on the second day.

Flounder talk

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