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WNC Business

Additional avenues shift a retail store Into an anchor for Downtown Saluda

Nov 15, 2023 08:46AM ● By Randee Brown

Opening in 2017 as a retailer of outdoor recreation supplies and clothing, Saluda Outfitters Co-owner Amber Griffin quickly realized the community desired more from the retail store.

One of the first towns visitors reach when driving ‘up the hill’ into the mountains, Saluda is a tourist destination due to its proximity to the Green River, Pearson Falls, and The Gorge zipline company. The area is popular for kayaking, tubing, fly fishing, and hiking.

Griffin said most of her clientele revolves around the area’s tourism industry. With a town population of about 800, the volume of visitors significantly outnumbers the full-time population. They see repeat business from tourists who return to the area, and she said many visitors hop off the interstate after seeing their billboard next to I-26.

“When the railroad was here in the 1800s, Saluda was the first mountain town on the grade,” Griffin said. “There are lots of generational visitors from Charleston now; it’s easy for people to hop on up here.”

Originally opened to serve the bustling outdoor industry in the region, Amber and her husband Ryan Griffin also wanted to revitalize the old log cabin that is the focal point of the town to give a good impression when visitors came to town. The couple quickly realized that there was an opportunity to be more than just an outdoor retailer.

“I learned people wanted an experience more than an item,” Griffin said. “They can get their items anywhere.”

Starting by adding live music on Saturdays with snacks and canned drinks, customers asked for more. They began soliciting local businesses to make sandwiches to sell, added three taps of draft beer, then tried to solicit food trucks to park at the venue. When Griffin realized food truck owners thought Saluda was too far from their home base, she bought her own. When local regulations began allowing the sale of mixed drinks, Griffin added that during COVID. 

Saluda Outfitters has now grown to be more than a retail store. Their 16 taps of local beer, mixed drinks, and on-site restaurant combine as Green River Eddy’s Tap Room & Grill. The restaurant and music venue along with their retail store created an anchor for Main Street in downtown Saluda.

While Griffin believes the store would be successful as a retailer alone, she said it would not be nearly as impactful. 

“Customers kept asking, and we kept providing,” Griffin said. “People eat and drink every day, but they don’t buy a shirt every day. The parts feed off of each other, though. A lot of our branded items like glasses, stickers, or clothing that say Saluda Outfitters or Green River Eddy’s Tap Room & Grill sell well because people get to take home a piece of Saluda and their experience here.”

The Griffins’ staff of 17 do a lot of crossover training. She said everyone pitches in wherever is needed to make the business run well. Several of the staff members have been there for years, and she hires some each year seasonally during the busy summer months. 

“Staffing in this economic climate is a challenge, but we are very fortunate,” Griffin said. “We have loyal employees that enjoy being here and enjoy what they do, and our goal is to keep them here for a long time. In a town this small, we are a large employer, and we all share the same mission to serve our community in several aspects.”

Especially after COVID, Griffin said it’s an important goal for her to offer the community a comfortable dog- and family-friendly environment that brings people together again and again, and she has heard her regulars say this is where they feel comfortable.