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December 9, 2023
Bivouac: meaning temporary campsite; can be used as a noun or a verb.
The adorned store on state street, snuggled alongside Nickel’s Arcade’s alleyway, has outfitted students and the outdoorsy lover for years on end in an array of items. Once an army surplus store, Ed Davidson, a senior at the University of Iowa, founded Bivouac in 1970. Then in 1971, Ed left Iowa City to open the beloved Ann Arbor store. At the time, a majority of the country–including Ann Arbor students–was protesting the Vietnam War and the popular clothing choice was army surplus gear. Thus, Bivouac sold what appealed to the current market. But, as the war came to an end, trending styles shifted and people wanted different clothes. Understanding his customers and the market trends, Ed embraced flexibility and was able to pivot Bivouac into selling day-to-day outdoor clothing gear and accessories instead.
The store started off in a quaint little upstairs apartment, however, by the early 1990s, Bivouac successfully expanded; acquiring three new storefronts, all of which they still currently occupy. Bivouac celebrates “52 Years of Ann Arbor Style”, and is recognized as a treasured historical staple on the University of Michigan’s campus. Because of its ever changing style and shifts with the trends, customers who have been shopping at Bivouac since the 1970s continue to shop there to this day. Ed has since partially retired, but knowing the importance of community, he left it to his son AJ Davidson, constructing this family business. True to Ann Arbor’s friendly, community-oriented spirit, Ed still comes in once a week to talk to customers and employees.
When COVID-19 hit Ann Arbor, Bivouac faced their hardest year yet. As countless small businesses had to shut down, Bivouac’s savvy ability to adapt allowed them to survive the pandemic. AJ Davidson was able to launch an online store presence as well as offer curbside pickup, and extended to same-day delivery in efforts of reaching more people. In order to match consumer buying habits during the pandemic, they started selling loungewear and homegoods as well. Bivouac partners with different organizations on campus, such as UM Yoga, offering special discounts for those who attend. The online store offers an email subscription as well, with emails sent out about discounts, sales, and events, keeping their customers in the loop. They have a seasonal holiday shop, a newsletter, rewards program, and a social media presence: @bivouacannarbor on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.
Not only does Bivouac sell an outstanding collection of clothing, they remain committed to sustainability and the mission of serving their community. The store recycles soft plastics and compost on site, donates to local charities such as the Huron River Watershed Council, carries dozens of eco-friendly, sustainable brands such as Patagonia, Arc’Teryx, and The North Force and supports clean energy as a part of #MIGreenPower, which is a new DTE initiative benefiting Ann Arbor and surrounding areas.
Bivouac is more than just a store that sells outdoor gear. It is a longstanding fixture in Ann Arbor, and a space for generational connections and community building since its establishment.