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Roger Furst; outdoorsman cofounded EMS chain; at 78

Mr. Furst’s fishing excursions to remote lakes and streams gave him and a friend the idea to create a backpacking equipment store.

Roger Furst and Alan McDonough were fishing buddies in Colorado during the 1960s when, by choice, their treks to streams and lakes in the high country became longer and more ambitious.

“We got tired of walking 2 to 5 miles back to our car in the dark,’’ Mr. Furst told Backpacker magazine in a spring 1974 interview. “We started carrying our camp on our backs so we could sleep over and cook our fish right away.’’

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From those excursions came an idea for a business. Mr. Furst was a lawyer, and McDonough had managed a hotel in Denver. Together, they decided to create a store that would sell the kind of equipment they needed for their trips.

The venture they founded became Eastern Mountain Sports, or EMS.

“First, we’ve got to enable a man to reach a secluded spot without exertion,’’ McDonough told the Globe in 1967, after they opened their first store in Wellesley. “Second, we have to make it possible for him to establish a comfortable and enjoyable camp.’’

Mr. Furst, who remained with Eastern Mountain Sports for about a dozen years after cofounding the company, died March 16 in Sherman Healthcare Center in Sherman, Texas. He was 78, and family members said they did not know the official cause of death.

The two men launched their business at a time when backpacking equipment was becoming far more sophisticated. Excited by new technologies, they examined potential store locations before deciding that places such as California, Denver, and Seattle already had enough mountaineering stores.

‘He was the peacemaker there, with the personalities and the staffing. He had a great sense of humor and he was very vivacious.’

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Instead, they turned their attention to states in the East, where they figured the market for such equipment was largely untapped.

Each kicked in $5,000 and settled on suburban Boston as the ideal place to open what they called the Mountain Shop.

The two men, “convinced that backpacking is a growing sport of beauty and comfort, set up shop in Wellesley this spring and appear to be winning converts,’’ Globe outdoors editor Mike Beatrice wrote in June 1967.

Mr. Furst and McDonough sold backpacking, climbing, and other equipment. After merging with another similar retail operation in town, they called their new store Eastern Mountain Sports.

“We looked all over,’’ said McDonough, who lives in Dover. “We just found a nice location out there.’’

Success led them to expand rapidly to 10 retail stores in just six years and to publish a sizable catalog.

“EMS has gained a special reputation for its 200-page catalog,’’ Backpacker reported in 1974. “In addition to listing merchandise, the catalog offers 50 pages of technical advice on how to select proper equipment, on proper fit, and on equipment manufacture and design. . . . Also, a seven-page essay on minimum-impact camping, the ‘new ethic,’ and conservation.’’

McDonough was president, and Mr. Furst, as vice president, handled all the legal affairs and the catalog.

“He was a very fair and honest guy,’’ said Rob Staub, who was controller at EMS while Mr. Furst was vice president. “He was always highly respected and liked by all of his employees. He was just easygoing and straightforward.’’

The company moved its offices from Wellesley to Boston when a large location opened on Commonwealth Avenue in the late 1960s.

Eastern Mountain Sports quickly became popular as customers flocked to the store to buy parkas, hiking equipment, or cross-country skis.

By 1977, there were 16 retail stores and an administrative headquarters in Peterborough, N.H. Sales expanded rapidly, to about $16.7 million by the mid-1970s.

Although Mr. Furst was part of the store’s management, he also made rounds of retail floors in the company’s stores to talk with customers shopping for tents or other equipment.

Mr. Furst also enjoyed testing equipment the company sold and would take new items all over the country to see how they fared, said his longtime friend Ed Curtis of York, Maine, and Sarasota, Fla.

“He was very smart, very athletic, and he really loved the outdoors,’’ Curtis said.

Born in Cleveland, Roger Conkey Furst studied at Phillips Academy in Andover and finished at the Ottawa Hills high school in suburban Toledo, Ohio.

He graduated in 1956 from Stanford University in California with a bachelor’s degree and then from University of Michigan Law School.

After beginning his law career in Ohio, Mr. Furst moved to Denver, where he practiced for a few years before becoming friends with McDonough.

When they sold their business in 1979 to Franklin Mint Corp., Mr. Furst stayed on for a while as a consultant, said his former wife, Martha of Milford, N.H.

Later, he tried other ventures, but never matched the success of Eastern Mountain Sports, his family said.

Eastern Mountain Sports was acquired by Warner Communications and later owned by American Retail Group.

Eastern Mountain Sports announced in 2004 that it had been purchased by a management team and investors.

Last month, friends and family gathered to celebrate Mr. Furst’s life.

“In general terms, he was a very friendly, humble, super-likeable guy,’’ said Mr. Furst’s son Brandon, who lives in New Hampshire.

In addition to his son and former wife, Mr. Furst leaves two daughters, Kirsten Brenna of Austin, Texas, and Heidi of Boston; two other sons, Edward of Denison, Texas, and Jason of San Francisco; a brother, Edward of Conway, Ark.; two sisters, Diane Hertzfeld of Greensboro, N.C., and Marilyn of Glen Ellen, Va.; five grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and his first wife, Estelle Kalakailo of Farmington, Mich.

In addition to building the chain of Eastern Mountain Sports stores, Mr. Furst and McDonough also opened what became a popular climbing school in North Conway, N.H.

“He was the peacemaker there, with the personalities and the staffing,’’ Mr. Furst’s former wife Martha said of his work with EMS. “He had a great sense of humor, and he was very vivacious.”

Emma Stickgold can be reached at estickgold@globe.com.
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