Today we’d like to introduce you to Liz Winand.
Steve and Liz Winand, both born in York, PA graduated from a local high school in the late 1960’s. They dated in high school but parted ways briefly for Liz to go to college and Steve to serve in the U. S. Air Force. They married in 1969, lived at the Minot, ND Air Force Base, and returned to York in 1972 for Steve to complete his degree in Business Administration at York College.
While Liz worked in customer service at several York manufacturing companies, Steve pursued a job in Human Relations at Dentsply International. Life was good for the young couple, but something was missing. There was a calling to the outdoors for both of them. They enjoyed backpacking, cross country skiing, and various watersports and had a dream that their avocations could become a vocation. On New Year’s Eve, 1978, they made a resolution to follow that dream.
Shortly after January 1978, Steve gave his notice at his job and began pursuing the development of York’s first outdoor shop. He located a small building in downtown York that had once housed a printing company. The building was a one story brick structure, all open space, and most importantly full of natural light from many large windows. Being located in downtown York was important as it was a time of a “Back to the City” movement that many friends were committed to. With the financial help and lots of sweat equity from friends and family, the small building was transformed into Shank’s Mare, opening its doors on July 31, 1978. Shank’s Mare was a term Steve heard many times from his grandfather…meaning “to travel by foot”. The name was thought to be Pennsylvania Dutch, but it turns out it is an old Scottish saying. Because Shank’s Mare’s activities were and still are self-propelled, the name is appropriate for the business to this day.
Our modest 2000 sq. foot shop featured backpacking equipment and clothing, canoes and paddling gear, and cross-country skis. Our signature wood stove totally heated the space, and resident dogs in those days were Abbie and Clark. Our goal was to make our shop a comfortable, lifestyle space for anyone interested in the out of doors.
By 1988 we had outgrown our first home, so we relocated to larger quarters just two blocks away. Our new shop in another renovated industrial building featured brick walls, lots of space and again, great windows for natural light. It was a unique new home with plenty of space to add windsurfing equipment and mountain bikes to our product offering. We had also by this time developed a teaching and programming part of the business-focused around our specialty outdoor activities. We rented a waterfront site along the Susquehanna River to conduct classes and activities. We also ran mountaineering trips out West, windsurfing trips to the Outer Banks and more.
In 1992 we made the difficult decision to leave downtown for the suburbs. Our South Queen Street shop put us closer to our customer base. We continued to offer all of the above equipment and added touring kayaks. At the same time, we were offering lots of outdoor programming at our Susquehanna River site as well as a local State Park. The programming part of our business continued to grow, and as we looked to the future, we believed this would be a very important part of Shank’s Mare’s survival.
In 1997, we made our final move to our current home that we call “The Susquehanna House”. This building, circa 1880, operated continuously as a general store for over 100 years. It is still in original condition and gives us lots of room for our outdoor product lines. Our location offers immediate access to the Susquehanna River and fronts the Mason-Dixon Hiking Trail. This location gives us the freedom to offer retail services but also expand our ever important programming functions. We have truly found our home in “The Susquehanna House” complete with that comfortable lifestyle feel and our current resident dog, Mazie.
Today Shank’s Mare operates in several different areas. Shank’s Mare Outfitters continues our retail offerings focused around touring and fishing kayaking and gear, stand-up paddleboarding, day hiking, outdoor clothing and gear, cross country skis, and showshoes. Our Outdoor Education Center offers rentals, lessons, eco-tours, hiking tours, Chesapeake Bay paddling trips, hiking & paddling dining tours, outdoor adventure camps for kids, school field trip programs and more. The Rookery banquet facility located on the second floor of our building offers a unique space with a spectacular view used for our own programs as well as private functions. Our spacious front porch (100′ long) overlooks the river and is staging for free summer music concerts and other events. We also house office space for the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, a non-profit watchdog for our portion of the river.
Our motto and trademark for Shank’s Mare is GO PLAY OUTSIDE. We are now taking that trademarked motto and developing a line of clothing and gear that will be marketed online. This new company is just about ready to launch. We hope to create a following for these products while at the same time devoting a portion of the sales to clean water environmental groups throughout the country.
Our mission at Shank’s Mare over 40 years ago and now continues to offer quality outdoor equipment and programs to people of all ages and to foster a stewardship of our environment so that it may be protected and enjoyed by others for years to come. To survive as a small business, Shank’s Mare has had to change and adapt to marketing trends. We’ve had to “think outside of the box” many times, but dedication and determination have granted us the ability to persevere. We are proud that we have stuck by our original mission for over 42 years, and now along with our son and daughter-in-law, Devin & Kristan, will continue the tradition with the newest Winand, Annie.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
We have been asked many times over the years to speak to educational classes on entrepreneurship. Our initial comments to those that want to begin their own business is to think long and hard and be prepared for anything. It will never be an 8-5 job. There are good times and plenty of bad times. And most of all, you have to be ready for change. We have always heard some say about new business, the first five years are the hardest. Our retort is always, the first 40 years are the hardest!
In our business, there are very few small, mom and pop outdoor shops left. In our opinion, one of the reasons we are still around is because we added programming to our retail operation. We have created a reason for folks to come to us. We lure them into a new outdoor activity and hold their hands through the learning process. In our experience, if we do our job right those people will become customers for life.
Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
We began our outdoor specialty business in 1978. Shank’s Mare specializes in product sales for paddlesports, hiking, cross-country skiing, and all the clothing and accessories to support those activities. We also offer instruction, rentals, eco-tours, kid’s programs and more. Go Play Outside is a new venture featuring online sales of clothing and gear with our trademarked Go Play Outside motto.
Liz and Steve Winand are both active in the day to day operations. Liz handles marketing, website work, program development, accounting, softgoods purchasing, on-the-floor sales, and occasional paddlesports guiding. Steve heads up staff operations, programming development, hardgoods purchasing, building maintenance, on-the-floor sales, and training and guiding. Son, Devin Winand, is now an active part of the business with sales and shop manager duties as well as guiding, teaching, and staff training.
Shank’s Mare has been in operation for over 40 years. Our goal has always been to offer personalized service that goes a step further. We want to get our customers into the best gear for their outdoor activity and teach them how to use in a safe and enjoyable way. We want their outdoor pursuits to continue to lead them to the next adventure. We want to give them a building block for that experience. Our longevity as a surviving small business in an industry with few independent mom and pop operations left indicates our success. The feedback from our customers, some with us for over 40 years, is affirming and gratifying.
We’re always looking for the lessons that can be learned in any situation, including tragic ones like the Covid-19 crisis. Are there any lessons you’ve learned that you can share?
The Covid-19 Crisis has simply affirmed the lesson that you have to be ready for anything. You have to be willing to change. In business, you constantly have to ask yourself what can we do to make things progress, no matter what the circumstances. We have weathered economic downturns and weather ruined seasons (we are an outdoor business!). The Covid-19 Crisis is another challenge to add to the list and find a way to make it work for Shank’s Mare and all the dedicated staff that depend on us. On a positive note, the Covid-19 Crisis has encouraged outdoor adventures as being a safe, socially distanced activity. This falls right into our mission, and we are doing our best to encourage all to Go Play Outside!
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