BY JANET MANDELSTAM
There’s no view of the sea from the new store on the downtown Square, but its name, Seaview Outfitters, comes with a backstory.
When he was 18, Steve Thomas, owner of the outdoor clothing and gear store, began spending summers in Hope, Alaska — where there really is a view of the sea — visiting his Aunt Renna’s Seaview Cafe and Bar. Those summers, he says, “provided a great opportunity to refresh and to get out in the woods.” They also provided the germ of a business idea.
What Thomas (and his younger brothers Jack and Charlie, who followed him to Hope) saw was “a small business run with passion and great customer interaction.” Combining those business principles with his own passion for the outdoors, Thomas took the spirit of Alaska — and the name of the café — back to Ohio.
He opened the first Seaview Outfitters three years ago in Oxford, home of his alma mater, Miami University. He was all of 22 years old. The store was so successful that it soon was time to expand, and he began to seek a site for a second store. “The sales reps from all the brands we carry said, ‘Bloomington is the spot for you,’” he recalls. “There’s so much going on — art, music, food — and so many different outdoor activities within an hour’s drive.”
The Bloomington store opened on June 21, the same day as the popular Taste of Bloomington event, even though the storefront wasn’t finished. But with its polished wood floor and exposed brick, the inside was humming. The store caters to all levels of outdoor activity, offering everything from technical gear for backwoods campers to what Thomas calls the “comfortable lifestyle fashions” from companies including Patagonia and Columbia. “After all,” he says, “everybody needs a rain jacket.”
With a full-time manager in charge in Oxford, Thomas moved to Bloomington to launch the new store and to engage in the community. “We were very welcomed into town,” he says.
Now 25, Thomas says he is the oldest person involved in the business. His brothers, also imbued with the Alaska experience, have been employees since they opened. An avid hiker, kayaker, fisherman, golfer — and businessman — Thomas seems to be living Seaview’s maxim: “Dream no little dreams.”