Outdoors, again: High Tor fills a local need for secondhand gear

Photo: Eze Amos Photo: Eze Amos

When Erin James was pregnant with her first child, she and her husband Seth Herman were amazed by the amount of hand-me-down baby stuff that came their way. In local secondhand stores, too, the used baby gear abounded. At the time, they were looking to start a business that would set a positive example for their kids. “What is it that adults need, and could buy used?” Herman remembers thinking. Soon, they had the answer—outdoor gear. “We wanted spending time outside to be a core value of our family,” says Herman. Helping people reuse stuff would be an environmental contribution, too. High Tor Gear Exchange, an outdoors-focused consignment shop, opened in February 2018.

Among the hurdles to starting the business, says James, was finding the perfect space. “We went to a lot of outdoor gear shops—in Asheville, Roanoke, and Ithaca—and took note of where they were located,” says James. They settled on a spot in McIntire Plaza, near other secondhand stores (ReThreads and Circa) plus a climbing gym, Rocky Top Climbing, that would dovetail with their customer base.

A microloan from the Community Investment Collaborative helped out with renovating the space. “The next biggest hurdle was that we needed to introduce ourselves to the community so we could open with inventory,” says Herman. Community presentations and weekend open houses—complete with coffee and donuts—helped bring in early consignors.

Since opening, High Tor has received more than 16,000 items from 1,200 consignors. Herman and James are proud to have kept that much stuff out of the landfill and to have paid out $110,000 in checks or store credit to their consignors. They feel good about their presence in the community, too—Herman has spoken to Darden students about sustainable business, the store’s been nominated for local readers’ choice awards, and they’ve hosted speakers and workshops.

They give lots of credit to their employees, who keep the doors open while Herman and James raise their two kids and hold down fulltime day jobs—she in Albemarle County Public Schools, he at Sun Tribe Solar. “We’ve been blessed with incredible employees coming out of the Outdoors at UVA program and the rock climbing club,” says Herman. “Since they’ve worked at the shop, we’ve had this incredible tie to the university and outdoor community.”

What’s next for the young company? “Profitability is something we had to home in on the last few months,” says Herman. “We’ve been working with the Deaton Group”—a local consulting firm—“and they’ve helped us to understand our efficiencies [and] improve our overall process. We’re really committed to creating the best experience for consignors and customers.”

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