Bivouac is hosting a celebratory event on Saturday, Oct. 9, the day of the store’s 50th anniversary.
Bivouac, Ann Arbor’s independent outdoor gear and clothing store, is celebrating a major milestone this October — its 50th year in business, completely family-owned.
Ed Davidson, now 71, launched Bivouac in 1971 as a U.S. Army surplus store. Much of the country at the time, including students in Ann Arbor, were protesting the Vietnam War. The clothes of choice among those students and protesters was army surplus gear.
“As the war ended, people wanted different clothes, so I then pivoted to newer clothes,” Ed said.
Bivouac has evolved through the years, now considering themselves a premium outdoor clothing and gear shop and a contemporary fashion boutique all in one. In addition to outdoor gear, like coats and camping supplies, Bivouac now sells jewelry, casual wear and home goods.
In 1973, it moved from its original location on William Street into the Nickels Arcade shopping district, 336 South State St. The store, which started in a small upstairs apartment, soon began buying storefronts in the arcade. By the early 1990s, it acquired all four storefronts it currently occupies.
AJ Davidson, Ed’s son and the current president of Bivouac, has been working in the store his entire life.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I was organizing the back stockrooms, pricing merchandise and doing whatever random tasks needed to be done,” AJ said.
AJ worked as a sales clerk in high school before joining the team full-time after college in 2008, starting as a manager, then vice president and now president.
“I’ve kind of done every role in the store at one point in my life,” he said.
As with most retailers, the store saw its share of struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been really tough, there were times we didn’t think we would make it out and thought we might have to close,” AJ said.
Trying to find ways to make it through the pandemic after being shut down for several months, the store launched a new website, started offering curbside pick-up and extended their same-day delivery radius to reach more people.
“We also changed what we were bringing into the store to match people’s buying habits during the pandemic, like loungewear and home goods,” AJ said.
“Of the 50 years, the hardest one was last year, no question,” Ed added. “But we’re happy to say things are starting to return to normal.”
Ed Davidson is semi-retired, but still comes in a couple days a week to chat with the regular customers, as well as on the busy days.
Bivouac has customers who have been shopping with them since the 1970s.
Some customers Ed has known for 50 years even stop into the store to say hello when they come back to Ann Arbor for football games.
“First they’re buying for themselves and now they’re buying for their grandchildren when they come to town,” Ed said.
Along with familiar customers, Ed has seen familiar employees. The store has seen two or three children of former employees also be employed at the store.
“I’m very happy to have created something that is lasting, and we couldn’t have done it without the community.”
The key to the store’s success, according to the elder Davidson, is showing up.
“I’ve accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, and I did it by showing up,” Ed said. “90% of life is just showing up and I showed up every day, worked hard and I think that’s probably why the store is still around.”
AJ is on a similar wavelength and is just as excited for what the next 50 years will bring.
“It’s pretty amazing a store is around for 50 years in this day and age, especially going through COVID and the recessions, you kind of have to adapt to survive nowadays,” he said. “We’re constantly adapting to our customers’ needs. That’s how we’ve survived this long.”
Bivouac’s anniversary sale week lasts from Oct. 4-10, with select items on sale.
Bivouac is also hosting a celebratory event on Saturday, Oct. 9, the day of the store’s 50th anniversary. In addition to offering door prizes, Bivouac is raffling off items every hour. Ten percent of sales are being donated to the Huron River Watershed Council.