Retail Wednesdays: Up North Surf Club on uniting surf and beer culture in the Pacific Northwest

EDITOR’S NOTE: Retail Wednesdays features a different specialty retailer or brand each week, in an effort to spotlight success stories and gain insight from businesses that are continuing to grow in the face of a challenging economy. This story is powered by our friends at Building The Revolution.

Retailer: Up North Surf Club
Location: Portland Oregon
Years in Business: 1
Interviewee: Martin Schoeneborn & Karen Randall
Job Title: Co-owners

We checked in with Martin Schoeneborn and Karen Randall, co-owners of Up North Surf Club in Portland, Oregon, to hear what it’s like being a surf company in the Pacific Northwest.

The shop is gearing up to celebrate its one-year anniversary on January 26, with a big bash, and we caught up with them just in time to hear what business has been like over the past 12 months.

up north surf club

Up North Surf Club Co-owners -- and husband and wife team -- Martin Schoeneborn and Karen Randall. Photo: UNSC

Please give us a quick history on how the Up North Surf Club got started and where it is today.

The idea of UNSC started after my wife Karen decided she wanted to open a store. After much debate about positives and negatives of brick and mortar storefronts and online competition, we decided community was the key, offering a connection that online can't.

Being from Germany, I've always had a love of German beers and how beer can create community. People meeting at the bar after work or surf, and just catching up and relaxing.

Portland has a really happening surf scene. Why do you feel it’s growing so much?

Portland is a changing city. Lots of influences from all over the world are converging here. I think it's kind of happening all over the country. There are multiple surf shops in Wisonsin and one in Idaho, for example. I've been in Portland for 12 years now and certain areas of Portland are unrecognizable, for better or worse. I also think Portland attracts people who love the outdoors. You have the ocean, the desert and the mountains all within a short drive.

up north surf club

Inside Up North’s open space. Photo: Up North Surf Club

Out of all the Up North Surf Club products you make, which one sells the most?

Pretty much anything that says Up North Surf Club on it. It's been awesome to see people choose our brand over established brands. The Pacific Northwest doesn't have a ton of big surf brands so it's been fun trying to create something relatable to Oregon surf and not made in California or Australia.

The Up North Surf Club is located in the craft beer capital of the world. It’s fair to say independent brewers are facing the same problems that independent surf shops face. What have you learned from independent brewers that would help the surf industry?

There's just a lot of people doing cool things in both industries and you need to be on top of your game. I think one thing that has been key is just to be as cool to people as possible. I've been to shops and breweries where the staff isn't always warm and inviting and you'd be amazed what a difference just being friendly makes. Our whole thing is to be a neighborhood place and not come off as elitist. Honestly the neighborhood folks who have made UNSC their hang out are what keep the lights on.

up north surf club

The PNW, in all its glory. Photo: Up North Surf Club

You have an upcoming Surfrider event and Uinta Brewing is one of the sponsors. How did Uinta get involved?

Bill from Unita is a cool dude and he's come into the shop quite a bit. I think he used to be a pro on the SoCal boogie board scene. He just mentioned he's down with what Surfrider does and wants to support UNSC and Surfrider Portland.

What plans do you have for 2018?

We plan to launch the online store along with re-designing the website. Work less, surf more. Brew some of our own Up North beers. Extend our hours and offer more products. YEW!

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