Mike Mazzola had an idea. He would open an outdoor shop. It would be a consignment shop and a thrift store. It would help feed his insatiable appetite for gear. Maybe, he thought, the shop could benefit a group of people he felt deserved a boost.
In 2011, Mazzola opened Mountain Equipment Recyclers, Inc., in Colorado Springs. Part consignment store, part thrift store, part gear liquidators, and part community cheerleader, this outdoor gear shop, located in a small, quiet business neighborhood south of downtown (at 1024 S. Tejon St.) has grown steadily since opening.
Mazzola grew up in rural Missouri, where he learned to hunt and fish. But he had a dream. “In the Midwest, everybody dreams of moving to Colorado. I shared that dream.”
He moved to Colorado Springs, and had established himself as a real estate agent and appraiser when the recession hit in 2008. The real estate industry was devastated and Mazzola began pondering his own future. “I had bought a lot of gear and my own personal gear budget was affected by my business,” he says. “I realized there wasn’t a used outdoor gear shop in town.”
Mazzola, 40, and his wife Julie started MER with gear from their own garage. But they realized their business could do more than satisfy fellow gearheads. “I was upset by the stories about soldiers who were coming back from war with brain injuries and post-traumatic stress syndrome. I felt compelled to help with that,” he says.
He crafted a business plan that would work like this: His customers could consign a backpack or snowboard or high-tech tent. If it sold, the seller would get 50 percent of the sale price and 5 percent would go to a veteran organization. If the seller wanted to donate the backpack or snowboard and it sold, 50 percent of the sale price would go to the veteran organization.
The people of Colorado Springs embraced the idea, where tens of thousands of active military and veterans live and work. Since MER opened, the shop has donated more than $50,000 to military organizations and other non-profits including the Trails and Open Space Coalition (consigners can designate any non-profit when they bring in gear).
Recipient groups change each year. In 2014, Mountain Equipment Recyclers supported The Home Front Cares and Project Sanctuary, groups that provide support to active military personnel, veterans, and their families.
Mazzola says his business has grown steadily. “I was banking on the idea that we had 600,000 people in this community with garages filled with gear. At the beginning, we had a very small budget, but the business model worked well with the recession. People bought all this gear when the economy was good, and now, they could sell it and make some money. We worked really hard to get it off the ground with social media.”
Mountain Equipment Recycling now employs five people, and Mazzola also features new overstock or liquidated gear from manufacturers. Mazzola has focused on the business for several years, but he hasn’t lost sight of why he moved to Colorado – he camps, backpacks, mountain bikes, trail runs, and skis. He’s still a gearhead. His personal favorite piece of gear right now? “A set of G3 telemark skis.”
Once a very back-of-a-napkin idea, Mazzola is pleased with the success of Mountain Equipment Recycling. “We love the idea of blending business and giving,” he says. “We have a lot of win-wins. We are giving money to charity, and we are recycling as well.”