Retailer/Outfitter Spotlight: Piragis of Ely, Minnesota
Piragis Northwoods Company is a well-known fixture in Ely, Minnesota—one of the main gateways to the Boundary Waters. This family-owned business has been an outdoor retailer and canoe outfitter since 1979…
Steve Piragis tells us their story:
Piragis is in the business of helping folks enjoy Canoe Country, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Nancy and I came to Ely as biologists from the University of New Hampshire to take a summer job with the EPA in Ely, measuring zooplankton feeding rates on Shagawa Lake in 1975.
We came with a Grumman canoe but no yoke, as portaging was an unknown experience in New England. We quickly found our stride, called home for a yoke and got into canoe camping during weekends away from the lab.
We fell in love with the BWCAW and with each other that summer. Ely became home. When science ran out of jobs, retail and outfitting took over.
The Grumman was replaced by a Kevlar Wenonah as soon as we found out how light a canoe could be. Portaging instantly was less stressful. With help from the good folks at Wenonah, we built a fleet of Kevlar rental canoes, the first outfitter in the region to take that plunge.
Other great relationships formed early, too, like the one we still have with Bending Branches. Offering the BB Special as the standard for our customers made Piragis the team to follow for outfitting in Canoe Country.
The retail store moved and expanded in Ely by accretion of the nearby buildings. Piragis Northwoods now occupies most of a city block on the north side of Sheridan Street, at the only stop light in town.
From one employee in 1979 to over 50 each summer today, the Piragis team is dedicated to making canoe tripping easier and more fun. Our catalog is mailed eight times a year to over 500,000 households. We’ve built a dominant brand in the market to bring more people north to see why we love the Boundary Waters so much.
Of course, loving wilderness means standing up to protect it. Our family and the rest of the team are active in local and national organizations that support the preservation of our wilderness environment.
Piragis Northwoods has grown sustainably and steadily for more than four decades. A new generation is taking over while Nancy and I spend more time paddling and less working.
A new era of up north is beginning. Innovation in the sport will continue and Piragis will be on top of it.
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