Last week it was announced a new independent outdoor store, SOKO Outfitters, will be opening in Cedar Rapids later this year, and many people immediately took to social media to explain just what SOKO means. Some insisted it was a Czech word — appropriately enough, since the store will be located on 16th Ave. SW in the Czech Village — and others were equally insistent that soko is a Japanese word.
Actually, the store’s name started out as Czech and accidentally ended up as Japanese, according to Steve Shriver, one of SOKO’s owners.
“We were going to call it Sokol Outfitters. Sokol is a Czech word for ‘gymnasium,’ and we’re right on the border of Sokol Park, so it fit,” Shriver told Little Village. “But as we were talking about it, we realized it was a little bit hard to say with that ‘l.’”
Shriver and his SOKO partners — Graig Cone, Steve White and Ryan Sundermann — decided to drop the awkward “l.” It was only after that they learned “soko” means “there” in Japanese.
“That really seemed to fit,” Shriver said. “We want to be wherever ‘there’ is to our customers. If they’re traveling to another state or another country, we want to be there with them by providing them with the tools they need to have a good experience there.”
About 80 percent of the store will be dedicated to apparel, Shriver explained.
“Patagonia will be our anchor brand,” he said. The store will also carry other casual and athletic apparel, including yoga wear.
“We’ll also have a full selection of camping, hiking and climbing equipment,” Shriver said. “And we’ll get into kayaking in the spring of 2019.”
The store will offer kayak rentals for people looking to paddle the river or Cedar Lake, and the Cedar Rapids Parks Foundation has plans for creating a kayak beach near Czech Village.
Shriver said the store is positioned at the heart of outdoor recreational opportunities in Cedar Rapids.
“Our store is located about 100 feet from the river, about 50 feet from the bike trail and right behind us is 50 acres of wide open greenspace, which is part of the greenway plan for Cedar Rapids, that lead up to the highest point in Cedar Rapids at the landfill [Mount Trashmore],” Shriver said.
The city plans to open hiking and bike trails on Mount Trashmore this spring.
The 6,000 sq. ft. building SOKO will occupy has been home to many businesses since it was constructed in 1919. Most recently, it was home to the Artisan’s Sanctuary, which moved to Marion last year.
Although the interior will be gutted and replaced, the building’s old brick facade will be kept in place. As for the mural on one of the building’s outside walls, which features imagery from Czech religious history, Shriver said he and his partners were considering replacing it will a mural more suited to an outdoor outfitters.
Its location in the Czech Village helped SOKO qualify for financial assistance from the city under Cedar Rapids’ Core District Reinvestment — Economic Development Program. During its Feb. 27 meeting, the Cedar Rapids City Council approved a 50 percent rebate of any increased taxes resulting from the establishment of SOKO. The rebates will last for 10 years.
SOKO will also have its sights set beyond the Czech Village as well.
“Our store theme is travel, so we’re going to walk the walk by organizing local excursions, local kayak trips,” Shriver said. “And we are working with a local travel agency to sponsor and run adventure-travel trips.”
“Outdoor recreation is expanding in Cedar Rapids, and we really feel like we are a part of this outdoor recreation movement,” he added. “Every town that has a good recreation movement has a kick-ass outdoor store, and we want to be that.”
Construction on the store’s interior will begin next week. The store is slated to open on Sept. 1.