On a whim, Barry Bender came to Vermont from Cincinnati in the early 1970s at the invitation of some friends.
He’d been working in drug and alcohol rehab with young people prior to coming to The Valley. He had also worked in a jazz club, started a food co-op, and worked at a Montessori school.
Bender, a native of Long Island with an affinity for the ocean, said he found Vermont was that much closer to the ocean than Ohio. When he first arrived, he lived in a group home in Warren that he described as a commune where he and his fellow hippies grew their own food and worked collectively while also helping neighbors restore a barn.
Once here, he also had a variety of seasonal jobs, including landscaping, as a chambermaid, as asous chef, and more. While living on a farm in Moretown in 1975, he purchased and started renting canoes and Clearwater Sports was born.
After a stint in the Bridge Street Marketplace in Waitsfield, Bender moved to his current location in 1983. At one point he had canoe instructional and rental outposts in multiple other Vermont locations in the summer, but he pared it down to one location after a few years.
He did his first full moon canoe in 1977 and began offering kids’ camps and other workshops after that. Clearwater Sports reflects an accurate history of the evolution of many sports, starting with canoes and segue-waying to wind surfers, kayaks, clothing, bikes, mountain bikes, river tubing, roller blades, snowshoes, back country gear with clothing joining his offerings along the way.
At 74 Bender said he didn’t really envision that he’d stay and make this a year when he first started.
“I just wanted to try it. The first year I lost every boat in the river. Then I found out about Mad River Canoes. Things just evolved. People wanted to buy gear and I was learning how to sell gear,” he said.
The store motto is “putting people and the outdoors together,” and for Bender it’s more than just a motto, he finds it incredibly rewarding to connect people to ways they can recreate outdoors.
“It’s great. I get to teach people to have fun outside,” he said.
He loves his repeat customers and those who attended his camps who then bring their kids and grandchildren to the store.
“The best part is the people and the fun stories I hear and the good memories,” he added.