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New outdoor outfitter, Big Bear Gear and Rentals, in Lambertville fills void

To Rebecca Gelman and her husband, Dr. Michael Ehrenreich, it was hard to believe that the Lambertville, N.J., area didn’t have a store for outdoor gear.
“We had been coming out to this area for five years,” said Gelman, an architect from South Orange, N.J. “It just didn’t make sense that a place with such natural beauty didn’t have an outdoor store. It was just calling out to be done.”
And so Gelman and her husband, a dermatologist, who together own a weekend home in Lambertville, purchased the barn at 1874 River Road, just north of the Golden Nugget Flea Market last December and with the help of their teenage sons, Aiden, 16, and Zach, 14, transformed it into Big Bear Gear & Rentals.
The store sells camping, fishing, hiking and rock climbing gear, apparel and footwear, gifts, home goods, toys, and of course, bears, as stuffed animals, and as cast and carved bears. “We’re like any outdoor outfitter, except we have a sense of humor,” Gelman said. Big Bear Gear also offers bike, kayak and canoe rentals, kayaking classes, lectures and make-and-take workshops, and partners with the Sourland Conservancy by selling its merchandise.
“It was a long time in the planning,” Gelman said. “We own the property next door and had been pursuing (the barn) for many years.”
The family of outdoor enthusiasts completed all the improvements with plans to open the store in April – but before they could do so, the stay-at-home order was instituted in New Jersey to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The indoor opening was delayed until June 15, but Big Bear Gear was permitted to offer curbside rentals of kayaks, canoes and bicycles two weeks prior to opening day.
Gelman said the store offered an “outlet to the outdoors,” at a time when people were hesitant to leave their homes. “It’s helping people’s sanity,” she added, offering a way for them to access nature when many other recreational options have been shut down or severely limited.
“People were coming from far outside the area,” Gelman said, including New York and Philadelphia, and other regions of New Jersey. “Often they’d never been to the area.”
Gelman said the store has been really busy. “There’s been a shortage of gear,” she said. “Luckily, we got a shipment prior to COVID-19. We could use twice as much.
“We couldn’t have planned this ...” Gelman said, adding, “It was like a perfect storm. People really needed this.”
Gelman said her family needed it too.
Getting the store ready during the shut-down, unpacking and stocking gear, gave Aiden and Zach something to focus on.
Now that the store is open, Zach does research and buying and works in the bike shop, and Aiden is taking charge of the Saturday farm stand, which features products from four area farmers and is held under tents on the field next to the store.
“We’re so happy for the human interaction,” Gelman said. “That’s the part I really enjoy.”
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