Bivouac, an Ann Arbor clothing and supply store located at 336 S. State St., is celebrating its 50th anniversary this October. For half a century, Bivouac has supplied Ann Arbor with items ranging from camping supplies to high-end fashion.
The store first began as a second-hand army surplus store in Iowa in 1970 to cater to student anti-war activists, Bivouac founder Ed Davidson said, and moved to Ann Arbor in 1971.
“I started the store as an army surplus store because that’s what the students were wearing during the protest years,” Davidson said. “Everybody was protesting Vietnam, and ironically, the dress of choice was army surplus items to protest the war.”
As trends changed throughout the years, Davidson said Bivouac has adjusted to the needs and wants of its predominantly student customers. Through buyers and trade journals, Davidson and his coworkers have gone from selling recycled jeans from Goodwill to jeans costing upwards of $100, he said.
Beyond its primary goal of providing customers with clothing and camping equipment, Davidson said Bivouac has served as a space for generational connections and community building since its establishment.
“This September, during move-in, we had a family buying a winter coat for their daughter,” Davidson said. “They live in Dubai now, and their daughter is coming to school here, and I happened to be helping them. The father said, ‘I want you to know that you outfitted me for my first winter coat.’”
Within its student customer demographic, Bivouac is a well-known destination for a wide variety of products, Public Health junior Celene Philip, who used to work for The Michigan Daily, said.
“I’d visited Ann Arbor many times before, my sister went to school here before me, and the Patagonia sign in the Bivouac window was always an identifying feature,” Philip said. “I love having a store on campus that has great quality brands and items that are versatile. I love Bivouac because it seems to be on top of and even ahead of the trends.”
AJ Davidson, Ed’s son, has taken over as store owner since his father has partially retired. In addition to fostering interpersonal connections, AJ Davidson said Bivouac is committed to helping out the Ann Arbor community.
“We give back to the community through various charities — as part of our Anniversary Sale, we donated 10% to the Huron River Watershed Council,” AJ Davidson said. “We always like to give back to local groups and organizations.”
Looking ahead to the store’s future, AJ Davidson said he is hopeful for the endurance of his small business in the coming years.
“I’m hoping for another 50 years,” AJ Davidson said. “I want to keep evolving and keep building up the website. I want to make it easier for customers to get downtown and shop with us. I want to just keep serving the community that supported us for 50 years.”
Daily Staff Reporter Emily Blumberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.