Written by Carol Newton
Have you ever needed a new piece of outdoor equipment but felt like you couldn’t afford it because of the steep prices at Patagonia or REI? Or have you been disillusioned by outdoor gear made overseas with cheap labor? Do you want to buy or sell gear without visiting the chaotic world of the CC Facebook group “Free and for Sale”? If so, you should check out Mountain Equipment Recyclers, a business dedicated to providing quality gear with an emphasis on giving back to the community and protecting the environment.
This weekend I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Mezzola, the owner of Mountain Equipment Recyclers (MER). Mezzola had the idea for the business in 2008 during the economic crisis when he realized that there were no used gear shops that offered lower-priced equipment. In a town where people enjoy outdoor activities, there were limited options for individuals struggling to make ends meet, so MER was established. At first Mezzola couldn’t get a storefront, but he was able to open the business just two years later in 2010. Rent for the store was extremely low because it was the middle of the recession, and with just a small investment he was able to get the business off the ground. MER is currently an independently run business based out of Colorado Springs. However, it has just begun to expand its services through the Internet and EBay.
MER sells new and used outdoor gear such as what you’d see in REI: equipment for camping, snowboarding, skiing, fishing, and hiking, and brands such as Patagonia and North Face. Unlike high-end gear shops, however, MER sells both new and used equipment at a discounted price. Moreover, this is not your typical used gear store. MER is a for-profit business with a strong emphasis on giving to charity organizations. Over the past five years alone, the business has donated over $86,000 to different charities. Although at the opening of the business Mezzola donated solely to veterans’ associations due to his passion for helping returning war veterans and their families adjust to life after the war, MER now also supports outdoor organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Field Institute.
While MER is a for-profit business, their big focus is on giving back to the community and protecting the environment. This means that even though they have expanded to selling new gear as well as old, they buy new gear from other businesses (usually older models) in the spirit of keeping everything as local as possible, and sell it at a discounted price. When MER collects individuals’ lightly used gear, they offer donors two options: one is to bring gear to the store, let MER sell it, and get back 50 percent of the sale price. The store keeps 45 percent of the profit, and donates the other 5 percent to a charity chosen by the customer. The second option is that people can simply donate their gear to the store; the store then keeps half of the profit and donates the other half to a charity of the donors’ choice.
An exciting new addition to MER is the creation of a nonprofit thrift store in a back room of MER. Shift Thrift, a nonprofit organization dedicated to social enterprise, works like a common thrift store such as Goodwill in that individuals donate their clothes (any clothing, not just outdoor gear) to be sold at a lower price. However, unlike a thrift store, all profits from Shift Thrift go to a charity that the donor chooses. Shift Thrift is partnered with eight local charities (including CC’s very own Colorado Springs Food Rescue). Mezzola has dreams of moving the shop into a building downtown so it is more visible and accessible to the general Colorado Springs population as well as Colorado College students, who he sees as perfect customers for his business.
Seeing the general population at CC as a socially conscious group of individuals interested in giving back, Mezzola believes that the school and his store could be a perfect match: students would get to join a cause that recycles lightly-used gear so that new gear doesn’t have to be made with cheap labor and then transported millions of miles to the U.S., gives to charities and community members, and allows them to get good gear and clothing on a limited budget.
As we near the end of the year, students across campus are blowing up the “Free and For Sale” page, posting picture after picture of clothing and outdoor gear to sell, or asking to buy clothing. With so many posts and messages, it can be a chaotic scramble for the buyers, a pain for the sellers to get all of their gear and clothing sold, and an annoyance for everyone else getting the notifications. So why not go to MER instead? They’ll sell your clothing and gear for you, send you a check in the mail, and allow you to make a difference in the world by donating to charity. With high-end, affordable, new and used gear, nice clothing, and the bonus of donating to important charity organizations, MER truly lives up to its slogan, providing “Outdoor Gear with a Greater Cause.”