When Mark Weaver opened the doors of Active Endeavors in 1986, there really was no such thing as an outdoor store in Iowa City.
“You had hunting, fishing and camping stores,” says Weaver. “But there was really nothing like what you’d call an outdoor store today.”
The Iowa native had an ambitious goal—to bring the mountain culture to Iowa. Now nearly three decades later, it’s safe to say that’s he has at least succeeded in bringing outdoor equipment, apparel and footwear to a place where there are no mountains.
“My original idea for the name of the store was Lost Mountain,” says Weaver.
But despite the lack of altitude, Iowa City turned out to be open to the idea of outdoor culture that was gaining traction across the country. He was the first retailer to carry The North Face, and one of the first to bring Patagonia into Iowa. Starting in a 900-square-foot space on S. Linn Street, Active Endeavors grew as those brands and others started to gain mainstream appeal. In 1988, Weaver relocated to the 8,000-square-foot space where the store remains today, at 138 S. Clinton Street.
“We sold a lot of equipment for camping and hiking, for a while we were the only rock climbing store in Iowa,” Weaver said. “We sort of focused more on the apparel and softer side of the sports—but it had to be legit. The clothing had to be the right thing for people to wear in their active endeavors.”
So how does an Iowa-native get so caught up in mountain culture in the first place?
“I’ve just always enjoyed the sports,” he says. “I went skiing and hiking on vacations, and I was drawn to (the outdoors).”
But it wasn’t initially his career. He was a teacher and coach, just participating in his favorite sports on the side like most people. But some college friends of his started a small outdoor store in Evanston, Ill. Over a school break, he went to help them out.
“I’d worked retail my whole life growing up, and I really knew the stuff,” he says. “So I’m selling everything, and they’re like, ‘Look at you go. You should be doing this. You need to open a store.’”
Six months later, he opened the store in Iowa City. He decided against Lost Mountain, and instead used the same name as his friends in Illinois—Active Endeavors.
“With so many Chicago kids coming to Iowa City, we thought that might help that they may have heard of us,” he says. “Plus we were so small, we thought making it look like we were a multi-store chain would help with buying.”
He’s seen a lot of evolution in the outdoor space since he’s first opened his doors.
“Everything’s lighter and faster,” he says. “There’s organic cotton, technological advances, and a lot of these companies are becoming more environmentally friendly. Everybody is jumping on board with that.”
The days of the heavy backpack and hiking boot that takes weeks to break in are also gone.
“Most people now are hiking with a trail running shoe or low-hiker,” he says. “The backpacks we’re selling now are so much smaller. We used to sell these big Dana Design backpacks for $500—and we sold a lot of them. But now everything’s lightweight and comfortable.”
Climbing is still a part of his business. People are often surprised that there’s pretty good rock climbing in the state of Iowa. But his customers do the majority of their climbing indoors now.
“The University has a really nice climbing wall,” he says. “That’s now where people climb, instead of having to drive to a place just on the weekends.”
He still gets people walking in occasionally looking for baseball equipment or a University of Iowa jersey, but for the most part the community understands the niche that Active Endeavors fills.
“We’ve been here for a while now,” he says. “The local newspaper has named us the best outdoor store three years a row, so people know who we are."
“I used to think that I’d have to leave Iowa to enjoy (the outdoors),” he says. “But Iowa City is a great place I stayed. It’s a great place to enjoy the outdoors.”