Photo:  Local Experience owners Lara Kurtak and Eric Russell are ready for summer with a broad selection of sandals to choose from. Photo by Casey Malon

Owning a small retail business in the Fraser Valley has its challenges. With so many internet vendors offering sale pricing and expedited shipping for most products, it takes a lot of dedication, vision and drive to launch a retail business in a small town and keep it afloat.  For owners Lara Kurtak and Eric Russell of Local Experience in Winter Park, it’s all about the customer.

Local Experience opened in December 2012, in a small shop adjacent to the Winter Park Post Office. Russell had previously managed a local ski shop and the idea for the store came to him while he was filling his gas tank across the street from the empty storefront. Recognizing there were no shoe stores in the valley, he thought this would be the perfect place to open shop.

While the store primarily offers an assortment of footwear, including brands such as Birkenstock, Chaco and Haflinger, they also carry a variety of comfort “black work shoes”, ten different brands of ski boots, offer custom orthotic and bootfitting, backpacks, Thule ski and board racks and accessories, and they even tune skis and boards in winter. In the summer, they also set up a bike wash free for visitor use.

The store has moved twice since opening, and, they’ve been in their current location in the Viking Lodge for about eighteen months. Located at the corner of US 40 and Vasquez Road in Winter Park, it’s a highly visible and convenient location (just look for the Yeti).

Partners in life and business, Kurtak and Russell both staff the shop, from 10 am – 5 pm daily, even during mud and shoulder seasons. “We can do this because we don’t pay ourselves,” Kurtak joked. “Both Eric and I grew up in Grand County and we love it here”.

“We want to give our customers exceptional service,” said Russell. “This community is special and we want to help keep it that way.” He went on to say that guest loyalty allows them to continue on. “When a customer has a good experience, they tell their friends and families, and this helps keep us going,” Russell said. The shop features a frequent shopper deal, and, their socks are always “buy 3, get one free”. “It takes a special person to live here,” said Russell, and “our goal is to create a special environment and provide a genuine local experience”.

While I was there, they received a shipment of Chaco sandals and were in process of unpacking the new styles. Having seven pairs of my own, they’re one of my guilty pleasures, so it’s no surprise that I left with “just one more pair”. So before you click “buy” next time, pay a visit to their shop and instead support a truly local business – they’re here for and because of you.