Carrie Rengers

Outdoors store closes after almost half a century in Wichita

This Backwoods store in Fort Worth is still open, but the longtime one in Wichita is now closed.
This Backwoods store in Fort Worth is still open, but the longtime one in Wichita is now closed. Courtesy photo

The long history of Backwoods in Wichita has come to an end.

The new owners of the outdoor retail chain, which Lewis Mull founded here in 1973, have closed the Bradley Fair store.

This follows the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing last fall.

“Unfortunately, the new owners of Backwoods just decided they wouldn’t move forward with the Wichita location,” says Jennifer Mull, Lewis Mull’s daughter and a former owner in the company. “Ultimately, obviously, it’s their call.”

Jennifer Mull is now a consultant to the new company, Backwoods 2.0 LLC, which is based in Austin. She says she weighed in on the decision about the Wichita store.

“I obviously, for a lot of reasons, was hopeful that they would carry forward with the location. Certainly, I wish they had.”

Mull moved the company’s headquarters to Texas in 2008.

At the time, she told Have You Heard? the Wichita Backwoods store was one of the strongest in the company.

She says that changed, but not due to a decline in sales.

“It just hasn’t increased in sales,” Mull says. “We have other markets that have grown at a faster pace, I would say, than Wichita.”

Over time, the store dropped to the bottom third in sales for Backwoods stores.

The chain had 10 stores but then closed three of them over the past couple of years. Two more were sold.

The new group bought five stores and then closed the one in Wichita.

Backwoods moved from downtown to Bradley Fair in 2004. The space is 4,383 square feet.

“We’ve been working with Backwoods over the last few months to address the issues that they’ve had at the corporate level, and in anticipation of their closing, we’ve been working with a new tenant for the space and hope to have an announcement soon,” says Amy Liebau, a spokeswoman for Bradley Fair developer Laham Development.

At one point, Mull and her father were partners, but she purchased the company in 2005.

She had a brief partnership in 2008 to develop a clothing line.

Then, in 2011, Nor Partners came into the business and operated with Mull as JoJo Holdings. Nor was the majority owner, and Mull’s intention was to phase out of the business.

The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the fall.

A group of investors purchased the assets of Backwoods and Backwoods Adventures, an adventure travel side of the business.

Mull says Backwoods 2.0 president Kevin McConnell has marketing and adventure travel experience.

“That’s kind of his forte,” she says. “Not as much experience on the buying side. I’m kind of focused on buying specifically.”

She says her more limited capacity as a consultant is working well for her.

Still, Mull has mixed feelings about what’s happened, and she says her father does, too.

She says retail has changed so much – not only since her father was in business but in just the past decade.

“He was actually kind of happy that I am out of that business because it’s 24/7, and it’s very stressful,” Mull says. “I think that he thought it was time for me to move on. But certainly it was his baby and in some ways it was my baby, so it’s bittersweet.”

She says the loss of the Wichita store makes it especially so.

“You hate to see that go.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers