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Uline Arena revitalized and reopening Friday as REI flagship store

A new Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) store opens at historic building in Northeast D.C. this Friday. Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. (ABC7 photo)

"Recreational Equipment, Inc.” has been in the Washington region for 30 years with seven suburban stores. But this weekend, REI will open its first store in D.C.

Its location, in Northeast Washington, has a lot of history. The old Uline Arena was the site of President Eisenhower's 1953 inaugural ball and the Fab Four's first U.S. concert.

The arena - later known as the Washington Coliseum - has been revitalized. It will re-open this weekend as a flagship REI store with more than 51,000 square feet of retail serving D.C. adventure lovers.

Unlike other REIs, which put camping supplies up front, customers at this D.C. store will first encounter biking merchandise. The bike shop just inside the front door will serve commuters who use the nearby Metropolitan Branch Trail.

“We can do most of those smaller repairs same day," Johnathan Freeman, a Master bike technician.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the design team repurposed the coliseum’s old basketball court and stadium seats into wall decor.

Also, REI customers will hear a playlist featuring the many musicians who once performed here: the Beatles, plus Go-Go stars and other acts.

Replica posters for those concerts cover the store, but REI wants to add to its collection.

“There were basketball games, hockey games, ballet and boxing matches,” said Becky Smith, the store’s general manager. “They all took place in this space but we don’t have the posters for them.”

“When I was a kid, I actually came here to see the circus,” Freeman said.

Another unique feature is the outdoor courtyard featuring a couple of giant arches, part of the historic structure of the arena. On them, customers can see traces of the original paint.

On Friday, REI will celebrate its grand opening, hosting a community block party with food trucks, music and free classes.

This story has been updated, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016

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