NEW YORK - Roger Furst, one of two fishing buddies who founded the Eastern Mountain Sports retail chain, which has equipped thousands of people to trek deep into the mountains, ski in the backcountry, or scale a peak, died March 16 in Sherman, Texas, a day after his 78th birthday.
His death was confirmed by his son Jason, who did not specify a cause.
Mr. Furst was a young lawyer in Denver in the early 1960s when he met Alan McDonough, a local hotel manager, and the two began hiking and fishing along the streams of the Colorado Rockies.
“We got tired of walking 2 to 5 miles back to our car in the dark,’’ Mr. Furst told Backpacker magazine in 1974. “We started carrying our camp on our backs so we could sleep over and cook our fish right away.’’
But the bulkiness of the equipment prompted Mr. Furst and McDonough to begin searching for manufacturers of lightweight backpacks, hiking boots, sleeping bags, and camp stoves. Realizing that there was a growing market for such equipment, they decided to shift careers and open their first store - but not in the West.
With far fewer mountaineering stores in the Northeast, they decided that Wellesley, Mass., was the right place to open what in 1967 was called the Mountain Shop. Demand was immediate, and within a year, Eastern Mountain Sports had a 10,000-squarefoot store in Wellesley, the largest outdoor equipment outlet in New England. That year, the partners also opened the EMS Climbing School in North Conway, N.H., now the oldest rockclimbing school in the Eastern United States.
“They helped shape the industry,’’ said Will Manzer, the current chief executive of Eastern Mountain Sports. “They bought ice-climbing gear, mountain-climbing gear, rock-climbing gear, backpacking and backcountry skiing equipment from Europe and in the United States. And ultimately, in the ’70s, we started to make our own equipment.’’
When Mr. Furst and McDonough sold Eastern Mountain in 1979, it had 19 stores. It now has 66 stores in 13 states, from Virginia to Maine, Manzer said. After several changes of ownership, Manzer bought the company in 2004 with financing from a private equity firm. He would not provide sales figures.
Roger Conkey Furst was born in Cleveland on March 15, 1934. He graduated from Stanford in 1956 and received his law degree from the University of Michigan three years later.
Besides his son Jason, he leaves two other sons, two daughters, a brother, two sisters, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Both of his marriages ended in divorce.