Water Stone Outdoors is a one stop shop for adventurers

By MICHELLE JAMES, The Register-Herald

FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. (AP) — Holly Fussell’s face lights up when she talks about the outdoor adventures available in and around Fayetteville and the New River Gorge.

This has not always been the case, however.

“It wasn’t an instant romance,” Fussell admits with a laugh.

The Georgia native was introduced to the area in 2004 by her husband Chris, who had started rock climbing years earlier.

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“We lived in Norfolk at the time,” she said, explaining that the family had “bounced back” for many years for Chris’ career in the US Navy. “I’ve always been athletic, but had never been exposed to outdoor and adventure sports and just felt like I wasn’t really good at them.”

Looking back, Fussell said it was clear his dislike of the outdoor adventure brand so popular in southern West Virginia was the product of fear.

“I just didn’t have the confidence that I could do it,” she said.

Although the couple continued to vacation in Fayetteville, Fussell spent several years away from the action.

It wasn’t until their daughter showed an interest in climbing the side of a rock that Fussell decided it was time to really give it a try herself.

“We were rock climbing with friends, and she (her daughter) was hanging in a rope and a harness, halfway up a building,” she recalls. “That’s when the light bulb clicked.

“I said I need to at least know what’s going on – know how to tie it with knots and understand the systems and everything.”

Still wary of hanging herself from the side of a cliff, Fussell began having small adventures with a climbing guide. It was then that with a few encouraging words, her gaze changed and a new passion was ignited.

“It was like, ‘Yeah, you can try,'” she recalled. “‘You can do it. Let me show you how.'”

Those words put into action, she said, made all the difference.

“It’s the sense of community and empowerment you get when someone believes in you,” she said.

Things have changed a lot over the past 18 years. Even before Fussell fell in love with outdoor adventure, his trips to West Virginia always included stops at Water Stone Outdoors in downtown Fayetteville.

It’s the area’s one-stop-shop for everything from running and hiking gear to climbing gear and clothing for adventures, both on land and in the water.

Through Water Stone, Fussell said, his family bonded not only with founders Gene and Maura Kistler and their business partner Kenny Karper, but also with others — locals and visitors — who shared similar passions and interests. .

“We had this really cool community where we could stay in touch and come back and connect with friends,” she said.

Those ties grew even stronger in 2020. The Fussells, who had by then added a son to the family, had moved to Washington, DC, where Chris worked full-time as a consultant.

Feeling “locked in” during the early days of Covid-19, however, they decided to take a trip to Fayetteville.

“It was supposed to be five days, and it turned into five weeks,” Fussell recalled.

The couple soon began discussing the possibility of permanent relocation.

“The contrast to the life we ​​were living in DC at the time during the pandemic was stark,” Fussell said. “Chris and I toyed with (the idea) for long conversations and ultimately we just couldn’t justify being so constrained for so long and having our kids caught up in it.”

And just a year after the move, in the summer of 2021, the couple had the opportunity to purchase Water Stone.

“We were researching and thinking about where we could dive in and invest in a way with our time and resources,” said Fussell, who previously worked as a teacher and fitness instructor and served on various boards. directors throughout her husband’s army. career.

“We didn’t want to just sit back and enjoy,” she continued. “We wanted to be a part of what this next chapter will look like for Fayetteville and the region.”

The plan was formed “sort of organically,” Fussell said, explaining that the decision to buy the company was the result of informal conversations.

In February, however, things got a little more formal, as the Fussells officially took possession. Although they are the sole owners, Kenny Karper, who was not quite ready to retire, remains on board to ease the transition.

“I couldn’t do it without Kenny,” Fussell said. “It’s more than a right arm. His experience and knowledge of the products we sell and the region is incredibly deep and extensive, so it only made sense for me as the owner to continue involving him.

This knowledge is also important because Water Stone offers a wide variety of products. Fussell shows elements on the second level of the building.

“We have (outdoor) backpacks, climbing harnesses, climbing ropes,” she says, stopping in front of a wall with ropes of different sizes and colors.

It shows a small wall with climbing poles.

“We have a climbing wall where you can try on climbing shoes and see how they feel,” she said, adding that customers can also sit in climbing harnesses to get a feel. idea of ​​what they might feel like when used on the side of a rock face.

Water Stone offers footwear and apparel for all outdoor adventure sports – climbing, hiking, biking, running and swimming – for all ages and sizes.

“We have very high quality equipment,” Fussell said. “That’s absolutely what we stand for. But with that, there are pros and cons.”

The downsides of carrying high-end items, she explained, are the barriers to entry that might come with them. That’s why the store offers consignment clothing and gear for kids and adults.

“It’s an option for people to recycle their gear and give it another lifespan,” she said.

While buyers can find quality items at a discount, sellers receive 80% store credit or 60% of the money the item sells for.

“It’s a really good alternative,” Fussell said.

Back downstairs, the store is busy with visitors, many of whom are in the area due to the New River Gorge’s recent designation as a national park.

“If the weather is nice, we’ll be busy all weekend,” Fussell said. “On weekdays, there is sometimes a lull in the afternoon and it starts again at 6 or 7 p.m.”

It’s the variety and quality of the products, she says, as well as the customer service that draws the crowd.

Much like the Fussells – although it’s mainly Holly, while Chris continues his work as a consultant – the rest of Water Stone’s staff are outdoor enthusiasts.

“It’s the expertise of our staff,” she says. “They are so knowledgeable. They learn what you are looking for and how you are going to use it in order to offer you the best equipment.

Although she’s still new to the business — as owners, at least — Fussell said she and Chris have plans for expansion.

“We would like to own the building,” she said, explaining that they are currently renting the space. “And we would like to expand the outdoor gathering space and refine it.”

Their goal, she said, is to create a space where the community can come together for talks and videos.

“A place to see different adventure icons that are local or from further afield,” she said. “We want to give them a stage and a place to tell their stories.”

She said it was these outdoor enthusiasts, like Karper and the Kistlers, who helped foster the spirit of outdoor adventures.

“I just want to expand our circle as to who belongs to Water Stone,” she said. “I want people to see that it’s for everyone.”

Fussell said she is excited about the future of Water Stone and hopes to pass on the kindness she has already received.

“You can do it,” she said. “I’ll show you how.”

Water Stone Outdoors, located at 101 West Wiseman Ave. in Fayetteville, is open seven days a week.

For more information, call 304-574-2425 or visit www.waterstoneoutdoors.com.

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