Lewis Jones was a high-school biology teacher who hiked in the mountains on summer breaks.
Then, 40 years ago, he realized his hobby could become his livelihood.
So Jones ignored everyone’s advice and opened The Backpacker – in 1973 the first store of its kind in the Midlands. Then, he proceeded to test all the equipment he sells.
Over the years, Jones has moved from camping and backpacking to technical rock-climbing and, in middle age, to downhill skiing and paddling.
At 70, he enjoys fishing, golf and car camping with family.
Half of The Backpacker’s storefront along Wayne Street is clothing and footwear. The other half is tents, backpacks, climbing equipment and “all the little gizmos and gadgets” that go along with outdoor adventure. The dressing-room doors are decorated with postcards from far-flung customers and friends.
“I just fell in love with walking, having everything you needed to be comfortable out there in the snow and the rain and the beautiful weather. Just being away from the city for 10 days or two weeks and walking around in the mountains,” Jones said.
“Just as important are the friends you’re with; I’ve never been a solitary backpacker. Just being around the campfire at night – it’s real, it’s basic.
“A good place to think. A good place to pray.”
Jones runs the family business, which includes a second location in Mount Pleasant, with his brother, Malcolm Jones; daughter, Courtney Love Gowans; brother-in-law, Michael Fleming; and niece, Lauren Pope-Corbett. Service and quality are watchwords.
The storefront itself has special significance: He remembers his mother bringing him there in the early 1950s, when he was a boy and the building was a Gold Kist feed store. “We were poor, and you could buy a dozen cracked eggs for 15 cents,” he said.
The Backpacker was first located along Harden Street, in Five Points. When the Jones brothers needed to move in 1998 – more than doubling their space – they chose the Vista.