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Published December 23 2010

Fargo outerwear shop opens

Business profile

Outermost Layer

Among Fargo’s new retail arrivals, the newest – Outermost Layer at 102 Broadway – is perhaps the most practical, bringing ski jackets, polar fleece, and an assortment of outerwear to downtown as winter sets in.

It’s something of a sister store to Beyond Running, another Broadway shop run by the same pair of co-owners. It’s also the product of a unique statewide contest designed to spur retail innovation in North Dakota.

Jason Overland, who along with Sally Loeffler owns Outermost Layer and Beyond Running, said the former is essentially an extension of the latter – a specialty apparel shop stocked with items that catch the attention of its outdoors-minded owners.

It’s “more of a clubhouse than a store,” he said, with a customer base that shares similar interests and isn’t shy about asking for specific brands or products.

In addition to winter gear, the store stocks trendy shoes, bags and accessories. While Overland said recent frosty weather has helped business, he also said the inventory will shift with the seasons. In the summer, for instance, the boots and parkas might give way to board shorts and flip-flops.

The ambiance inside is a blend of sleek modern merchandise and quaint, old-school decor: antique tables, old high school bleacher seats, and 100-year-old display cases meant to evoke the spirit of a throwback Broadway general store.

Overland said he and Loeffler had aspirations of an outdoor apparel store even before they opened Beyond Running in 2007. Last year, they were given a chance to jump-start the store via a new twist on the state’s annual Innovate ND contest, which gives entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their business ideas to investors.

In years past, the contest had focused on products and inventions. Doug Burgum, head of Fargo’s Kilbourne Group and at various times an Innovate ND speaker, presenter and judge, thought there was an opportunity to foster retail entrepreneurs through the contest as well.

He approached the state’s Department of Commerce, which runs the contest, with a deal: Add a retail category, and the Kilbourne Group would offer the winner a year of free retail space in downtown Fargo.

Burgum said the group wanted to encourage local retailers for two reasons – in the first place because homegrown retailers can blossom into regional powerhouses (Scheels started as a small general store in Sabin, Minn.), and in the second because it’s nearly impossible to convince national retailers to choose downtown locations over mall-style areas on major intersections with big parking lots.

“When they’re formula-driven about traffic counts, and they’ve got these requirements for parking that the big-box retailers do, they’re just not coming,” he said.

Instead, he said, filling in downtown means convincing local retailers to give it a shot. When the state agreed to add a retail category to Innovate ND, the Kilbourne Group dangled 2,000 square feet of downtown retail space, valued at $32,000, as a prize.

The move was doubly successful: Outermost Layers won the space, and one of the runners-up – KotiKites and Windsports, which opened last month – got enough exposure through the contest to work out a deal with the Kilbourne Group to move in next door.

Shane Goettle, North Dakota’s Commerce Commissioner, said he’s “enormously satisfied” to see two contest participants open side by side.

“It’s really neat,” he said. “Together, they really exemplify what the Innovate ND program was about.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502