The outdoors has always played a significant role in my life. I find myself enveloped in or constantly plotting for some adventure to find respite under Mother Nature’s embrace. In the past, I have always purchased my gear from the web or large outdoor chain stores, like Cabela’s or Gander Mountain. It was always an exciting endeavor to stroll through the aisles stacked with gear or browse the clean web pages in search of my next hatchet, newest camp stove or to salivate over the selections of freeze dried food, in anticipation for my next trip. However, I’ve come to realize that while rich with gear, those stores lack the intimacy, reflection and beauty that accompany travel and adventure. I just didn’t know how lacking they were until I stepped into Peninsula Trading.
Peninsula Trading sets up basecamp at the corner of Cherry Street and Diamond, near Lake Drive in the East Hills neighborhood. I stumbled upon the store while walking from the vegetarian haven of Gaia Café to the ageless Pickwick Tavern one evening. I noticed a small corrugated metal sign hanging above the door, with white letters that read, “Peninsula Trading, Travel Gear”. The sign brought my eyes towards a large display window with old door frames, license plates and a vintage Vernor’s sign. I decided I had to know exactly what, “Travel Gear” meant so I decided to check out the brightly lit shop.
Walking inside Peninsula Trading felt like a cross between stepping into an explorer’s intimate office and a shrine to youthfully coveted road trips. A large map is hung on the wall near the door, where customers mark where they are headed with their new gear and post cards cover the walls showcasing their joys once they arrive. Old license plates also adorn the walls and foreign currency is displayed under the counter, reminding you of all of the places you have been and those you long to see. There are stacks of faded and cracked vintage luggage beckoning you to fill them and make them a companion for your next adventure. The back of the shop has a high shelf lined with globes and with the words “Travel” hung underneath as a reminder to stay hungry for travel . Every corner of the shop seemed to urge customers to abandon any doubts and hit the trail, road or water. I was instantly overwhelmed by the intimacy of the shop combined with the unique interior design sense of the owner, Betsy Borden.
In 2009, Ms. Borden opened her shop in the heart of the Grand Rapids East Hills neighborhood. She wanted a change from her previous life spent in retail design and traveling around the Midwest as a sales rep for many of the companies she now stocks. She also realized that there was a lack of a “travel store” in Grand Rapids. When I asked what exactly a travel store was, she told me it was a combination of a luggage and outdoors store. “I’m the funny little crack that fits both spots,” Ms. Borden said. She continued, “It’s really fun because I can play on either side of the outdoor or luggage part of business.”
When Ms. Borden opened her store she had a different image of what her clientele would be. “When I started this I thought I’d get a lot of retired baby boomers,” said Ms. Borden. However she quickly realized that her store appealed to a larger portion of Grand Rapids. “I’m getting a lot of the urban college aged students who just want to get a feel and talk to someone about backpacking,” Ms. Borden told me. Fitting with her entrepreneurial spirit she decided to offer inexpensive rental packages for people who wanted to explore backpacking without making the total investment in gear. She also helps educate abroad bound students from the area’s colleges on packing for their latest trips. The majority of the shop was stocked for the winter season, with warm looking high performance and rugged apparel ranging from Merrell and Exofficio to Tilley and Stormy Kromer. Peninsula Trading also stocks luggage, gear and travel accessories from Eagle Creek and Sea to Summit.
The demeanor of the shop can best be summed up by one of the first things Ms. Borden told me when I stumbled upon her shop and started asking questions. She said, “When people come in here they are normally very happy because they are about to travel.” She paused and added, “I love it.” Ms. Borden has developed a personal bond with many of her customers and is eager to spend time answering questions about gear or in a lively conversation about places far away. There is even a small table and chairs set up in the front of the shop for people to hang out and talk about their latest journeys.
Peninsula Trading brings the personal feelings of travel and adventure into the often distant preparation and purchasing experience. The shop, like her late husband’s yellow kayak near the center of the store, is a memento to the joys of adventure and the fulfillment that only travel can provide.
972 Cherry St SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49506