In his eight-by-20-foot windowless quarters in Afghanistan, decorated with pictures of Itasca State Park, Navy officer Shawn Murphy sketched plans for Tradition Creek, the outdoors store he opened in St. Paul upon his return from war.
“I diagrammed what I wanted the store to look like, down to the sleeping bag display and a boat display,” says the West St. Paul native. And if you walk into his West 7th Street store today, you’ll see bookshelves crafted out of an old canoe and military-grade sleeping bags hanging from a wall, just as he planned it.
Murphy served as an officer of the military intelligence company for the NATO Intelligence Training Advisory Group. He spent six months on the ground in Kabul. During rare moments of solitude—he shared that shipping crate of a room with two other officers—Murphy allowed his mind to wander back to Tomahawk Scout Reservation in Birchwood, Wisconsin, the Boy Scout camp where he developed a love of the outdoors.
“I don’t just sell backpacks and tents,” he says. “I sell memories.” That includes the Eureka Timberline 2, the first tent Murphy ever owned, now available at his store.
Tradition Creek started as an online store, launched shortly after Murphy graduated from the University of St. Thomas.
But duty called. “I didn’t want to grow old and say when my country was at war, I was playing Xbox.” So Murphy joined the Navy in 2008.
He returned to Minnesota in May 2011 and bought a rundown building on West 7th Street—far from the big recreational gear chains. He did much of the renovation work himself and rented out the apartments upstairs to help pay the mortgage until the store turns a profit.
Tradition Creek opened quietly last summer, and it is just as Murphy envisioned: a cozy Northwoods lodge setting that smells of balsam fir. Pennants from favorite resort areas including Detroit Lakes and Park Rapids decorate the pine walls, along with murals of Minnesota lakes and nods to Native American art and culture.
Tradition Creek bridges the gap between trendy heritage brands and the old army surplus stores. You’ll find upscale performance lines such as Marmot and Osprey, along with Red Wing Shoes and Duluth Pack bags. Murphy looks for smaller lines as well—soap made by a veteran in Duluth, dehydrated camping foods out of Bemidji, wild rice from the Red Lake Indian Reservation. Tradition Creek also features its own private-label wool coats and vests made in Bemidji, as well as military surplus gear and jackets.
When you ask Murphy or his staff which camping stove works best or which sleeping bag is warmest, you can be sure you’re getting an honest answer, based on experience.
Speaking of experience, Murphy is creating a classroom in the back of the store where Tradition Creek will offer cold-weather survival training and other classes.
But don’t feel intimidated to shop here—Murphy is happy to outfit customers in anything that makes the outdoors more manageable, even if that’s just on the way to the car. 933 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-330-5735, traditioncreek.com —A. K.