Peak Sports: Fifty Years of Outdoor Excellence

On Sunday, Sept. 12, Peak Sports celebrates its 50th anniversary. What started as a bike shop has since grown into the bike shop, outdoor sports store, and gear consignment store here in Corvallis that has — Simpsons fans will love this — expanded into Springfield. They sell a wide range of outdoor goods, from biking, hiking, skiing, to water sports. The folks at Peak Sports can also help repair your bike and are a hub of information about the great Corvallis outdoors.   

Plans to throw a celebration for their 50th, held outdoors between their Second Street location and Skyhigh Brewing, had to be canceled due to COVID-19. In an email, owner Larry Desaulniers said he’s hoping they’ll be able to hold the celebration in 2022.   

Regardless of their ability to party, Peak Sports is still honoring their 50% off sale — running from Sept. 3 to Sept. 12.   

In preparation for the anniversary, we sat down with Desaulniers to talk about the history of this Corvallis staple. 

A Little Peak History 

Peak Sports was founded in 1971 by Jeff Katz in a little shop on Jackson Street. In 1972, the store moved to the Second Street storefront that one of the bike shops is in now. And over the years, Katz kept expanding to the next space, and then the next space, eventually landing in three buildings until 2003 when he opened up the outdoor store. That doubled their size.  

“There’ve been some intermediate steps in there,” said Desaulniers. 

In the late ‘90s, Peak Sports did big business in watersports, leading them to rent additional space. Then came bike rental space — The Annex — which became another business entirely for a bit, but was incorporated into the main company in 2017.  

Desaulniers came to work for Katz in 1993 as a part-time bike mechanic. He moved up quickly to be the manager of the bike shop. Eventually, Desaulniers became the general manager for the whole business. He worked with Katz for several years to finalize the deal; Katz retired and Desaulniers bought Peak Sports on Oct. 1, 2016.  

In July of 2020, Desaulniers expanded the consignment piece of the store into Springfield. In November of this year, a Springfield-based Peak Sports bike shop will join this Oregon sports empire. There may even be plans to expand further afield into Eugene.  

Desaulniers enjoys developing his business.   

“Not only the growth of the business but developing the businesses into a stronger business to be here for the long term,” he said. “I like working on things. You know, whether it’s a physical thing, like repairs; you know my history as a bike mechanic, right. Or a big machine that is Peak Sports.”  

In Desaulniers’s plans, he keeps an eye on sustainability to benefit both his staff and the community they serve. Although his focus has changed over his years at Peak Sports.  

As a bike mechanic, his eye was on all the really cool bikes — and people.  

“When I worked sales, all the cool people I [got] to work with,” he said. “Strangers coming in and getting to know people. And then the staff, we’ve had all kinds of different staff over the years, and all the great people you get to work with… But what’s really got me going now is the business. It’s quite a challenge and I really like the challenge.”  

Peak and Corvallis   

If you’ve ever rode in the annual Mudslinger bike race, then you’ve probably seen the Peak Sports name. They were integral in starting the event, later handing the reins over to a promoter.    

They also actively support the Greenbelt Land Trust, the Willamette River Keepers, and other clubs and organizations that make the Corvallis community a fun place to be part of. And if you’ve been a business neighbor, you’ve probably passed the hat in Desaulniers’s direction and have come away with a kind word and a sponsor for community betterment.   

“We’ve always budgeted a good amount to support all of that because that helps make the overall community,” said Desaulniers.  

Part of Katz’s original reason for opening Peak Sports was to provide job opportunities for bike enthusiasts in town. Desaulniers took on that mindset when he purchased the business, making an extra effort to take care of his employees.  

All these people are really important to me,” Desaulniers said, “and by buying [this business] I can keep it going the way that I had in mind rather than just someone from out of town just looking for an outdoor store or a bike shop to buy.”  

Another way Peak Sports has taken care of our community is through trail building. In the McDonald Forest, there has been a serious effort to expand and improve the research trail network, as well as including bike paths through it.  

“We have been providing staff on trail build days to take part in those events,” Desaulniers said. “There’s also a mountain bike trail network near Alsea — the Alsea Falls trail riding area, we provided staff for that as well. Years ago there was a trail on the west slopes of the Cascades here, I forget the name of it, this was decades ago now, and it was a similar effort for what we do now with Mac Forest. At that time we helped get that trail established, it’s Peak Sports’ trail. We took care of that trail.”   

As Desaulniers sees it, he and his people all work and play in the Mid-Valley, and they want to build opportunities they themselves will enjoy. 

 Where Peak Shines  

Every store has its niche, and Peak Sports can easily be included in that.   

“I would say that what we’re really good at is providing expertise in local knowledge. So, where to go for a good experience out on the trails, you know, camping, hiking, climbing, backpacking, watersports, [skiing]. We all do these things and we’ve got some real first-hand experience in these areas,” Desaulniers said.   

If someone comes to Peak Sports for the first time, the folks there can help them find the right trails, equipment, and experiences to fit their needs and levels of experience. And, of course, they have on hand the equipment you might need to safely and successfully finish your day.  

“That’s one thing that we do,” Desaulniers said, “we provide a very carefully curated selection of product that we feel is the best and or right type of product for exploring and adventuring in the outdoors around here.”  

A Peak at the Party 

COVID has taken a lot from us over the last two years, and one of those things is the Peak Sports anniversary party, which would have featured Cesar, the No Drama Llama. Another feature to keep Cesar company was going to be a Heartland Humane Society adoption event — and Desaulniers encourages people to check in over at Heartland to see if they can still get one of the many homeless pets.  

With bands playing all day, product demonstrations, face painting, and a “restaurant for the day” provided by Skyhigh, the event would have been a wonderful welcome back to normalcy. However, the virus that’s been keeping us apart isn’t quite ready for normal to return, so it will have to wait until next year.  

Another aspect of the day was going to be a donation event to benefit Willamette River Keepers and Team Dirt — “basically raffling donations for that,” Desaulniers said — including a bike, a boat, and skis as the grand prizes.   

Desaulniers even sent out invitations to former employees to come to the festivities and celebrate 50 years of business.   

“A lot of these staff they’ve come to Corvallis to go to school at OSU, they work at Peak Sports as their college job then they graduate and move on,” Desaulniers said, “and it’s really cool when… they come to Corvallis for whatever the reason is and they come to Peak Sports and then a customer walks in that they were real friends with.”  

Peak Into Desaulniers’ Heart  

“We’ve been around a long time,” said Desaulniers. “Jeff Katz, he did a lot for the community beyond just growing Peak Sports to what it is [as a] resource. He put a lot of his all into the development of the waterfront and Waterfront Park. That used to be a big gravel parking lot that was just covered in weeds and blackberries, you know. It was pretty ugly and Jeff was integral, he was part of the team that made that happen.  

“On the one hand, Peak Sports is a business and businesses do what businesses do — we’re in the business to sell products and generate profit to pay staff and grow the business. That’s the reality of how businesses operate but it’s never been about just making a bunch of money. 

“It’s been about improving our community, being a resource for the community and one of the ways we felt we could do that is try to be a little bit of everything to everybody as best we could. You know, be an outdoor store and a bike shop and now an outdoor gear consignment store. It’s all just been as a result of what the community has needed from us.  

“To be able to be that resource for the community gives us a strong sense of pride. And we really thank the community for all the support, and more specifically the amount of support we’ve gotten from the community through COVID. I can’t thank the community enough.  

“That’s what this 50th-anniversary thing is really going to be about. It’s thank you so much for being such a big support and allowing us to be a part of.”  

Peak Sports will be honoring their anniversary sale specials, so please see their ads on The Corvallis Advocate website and at the store.  

By Jalen Todd