Outdoor store The Pathfinder provides necessary gear, personal customer service

Dave Colburn, who started as a bike mechanic at The Pathfinder in 1979, puts air into a bike tire. Dave has been the full-time manager of the store in downtown Manhattan since 1984. (Alex Todd | Collegian Media Group)

Four years after The Pathfinder opened in 1975, Dave Colburn walked into the original location in Aggieville looking to repair his bicycle. He had the knowledge fix it himself, but lacked the means.

“My bike was making a noise, a piece needed to be tightened,” Colburn said. “I knew how to do it. I didn’t have the tool. I walked into The Pathfinder because I knew they had the tool, but there weren’t any mechanics on duty. They were all gone, and so they let me find the tool and tighten my part. [They] figured out I knew how to work on bikes and offered me a job.”

Colburn, now a sales manager, has worked at the store ever since.

The owners of The Pathfinder, looking for more space, moved to its current location at 304 Poyntz Ave. in 1992. The outdoor store specializes in personal customer service and making an effort to make sure customers get the gear they need for their trips. The Pathfinder has gear for hiking, biking, kayaking and many more outdoor activities.

Employees often go on outdoor trips themselves and encourage their customers to do the same.

“I think ultimately it’s about more than selling people equipment, [or] selling people gear,” Ella Magerl, sales manager, said. “It’s promoting people to actually go out and have these experiences and enjoy them.”

Not only does the store provide the gear and customer service, but the store is a place that builds community.

The employees at the store are a tight-knit group. Hayden Wylie, lead bike mechanic, said he loves going to work everyday.

“Usually, every day is the best day ever around here,” Wylie said. “I’ve been riding my bike since I was in second grade. I’ve loved bikes forever. It’s my passion. When I get to come into work and talk about my passion for however many hours to some people, I think that’s the most killer thing.”

A regular customer, Wendy Schlesener, rides her bike with a group that meets at the back of the store.

“Every time I come in, everybody knows who I am,” Schlesener said. “They’re always there and ready to help me with whatever I want or need. They’re a lot more than just that though. They’re kind of the heart of our cycling community. It’s also a place to go and meet up with our friends for a great ride.”

Colburn also works in the community with youth cycling, bike safety clinics and the Boy Scouts of America. He also serves on the bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee.

“The amount of impact that he’s had on the Manhattan community and, in huge regards to cycling, but in all other places … he’s changed the town,” Wylie said.

As opposed to a larger outdoor store, the employees at the shop are able to be more personal with their customers, to the point where they often recognize them around Manhattan.

“You do lose a little bit of customer service [at a large store],” Jeremy Corn, assistant manager, said. “Just knowing customers in a big space, in a big city, whereas people come into us, we see them at the coffee shop. We talk to people at Bluestem [Bistro] all the time who know us from here.”

Forty-three years later, The Pathfinder stays true to its mission statement: “Generations Transformed by Discovery Outdoors.”

I'm Pete Loganbill and I'm the News Editor for the Collegian and host of the Collegian Kultivate podcast! I spent two years at Johnson County Community College, and I am now a senior in Public Relations at K-State. I believe constant communication leads to progress, no matter how difficult a comment may be for me or anyone to hear. Contact me at ploganbill@kstatecollegian.com.