Name: Jennifer Pharr Davis
Company: Blue Ridge Hiking Company
Title: Founder and Owner
Location: Asheville, North Carolina
The Downlow: Long-distance backpacker, author, and former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Jennifer Pharr Davis started the Blue Ridge Hiking Company 12 years ago as a hiking and backpacking guide service. For over a decade, her guiding clients asked her for gear recommendations, so she eventually decided to curate the best of the best and put it in a shop. The store—which she calls a lightweight-backpacking boutique—celebrated its one-year anniversary during COVID.
We’re struggling, but we are very optimistic, and hikers are really good about being minimalist and being resilient. So we are channeling those traits and putting one foot in front of the other. And yeah, we’re going to be here. We’re going to keep going, and we’re going to get through this.
Guiding is the heart and soul of what we’ve done for 12 years. We also have a bunkhouse on the Appalachian Trail and gear rentals and shuttles. Everything has been forced to close. Retail is the one thing we can do.
We love supporting arts; we love supporting conservation.
People still want gear for when they can get back on trail. So even though the shop’s closed, we can still add value and communicate with our customers during a challenging time.
One of the things we were doing this year was a book club. When COVID hit, we turned the whole thing into the Armchair Adventure Book Club—streaming online every Thursday. It’s gotten great engagements and views, and it’s a way to support authors, which I love.
Another trail expression I think that we’re all channeling right now is, “hike your own hike.” Corona’s very universal. But as individuals and as retailers, we all have different experiences with it. Try to give people permission to experience their own journey through this period.
Being a caregiver by nature, that’s another weight during corona. You really want to take care of the people who have worked for you and given so much for your company. And then a lot of people have families at home that they need to take care of, and it just feels so often like you’re trying to make the best decision and there’s no good decision because there’s not enough resources to go around.
I think we will make it through better in so many ways. And I think the community’s going to respond really positively when COVID lifts, by supporting small businesses and the people who really are the local experts.
One of my main mantras and one thing we say a lot within our hiking company is, “keep going.” That’s been a constant reminder of putting one foot in front of the other, because it’s hard.
We will celebrate. We will have an extra big two-year anniversary next year.
Watch the full #WeAreCommunitty conversation with Jennifer Pharr Davis: