To Jan Peterson, everyone was family
Jan Peterson, the man behind JANS Mountain Outfitters, died May 16 at his home in Midway of metastatic prostate cancer. He was 77.
Known as "The Coach" by his staff, Peterson’s trademark was the attention – and affection – that he bestowed on co-workers, customers and members of the community as a whole. Many employees responded in kind, staying with JANS for decades in a town where jobs often lasted no longer than the ski season.
"One of the things he always said, when we had our clinics where we brought in all our new (employees), was, ‘When people come into the store, treat them like you’ve just invited them into your home.’ That was kind of his mantra," said Jack Walzer, who joined the staff in 1984 and today works as general manager of the JANS group of companies.
"It didn’t matter if you were a staff member or a customer, somebody brand new that was in the store, he treated everybody the same. It was always about being a friend first and putting everybody at ease."
In a community known for its support of nonprofit groups, Peterson was a beacon. In 1982 he launched JANS Winter Welcome, an annual fundraiser to help support those who otherwise could not afford to train and compete in ski racing. Today that Winter Welcome umbrella extends to nine different winter sports.
"The original dream was to get more kids off the couch, and that started with the Park City Ski Team," said friend and business partner Russ Coburn. "If kids couldn’t afford it, we found a way to get skis on their feet."
Bob Marsh, who was then the director of the Park City Ski Team, recalled that whenever he would propose something to Peterson, he’d get the same response.
"I’d bring up an idea and go, ‘Jan, we need some help,’ and he’d go, ‘We can do that.’ That was a quote that I’ll never forget: ‘We can do that, Bob.’ He never had ‘no’ in his vocabulary, it seemed like to me," Marsh said.
"There was no other business in town at that point that was doing what Jan was doing, for not only for skiing but for everything else."
Peterson and Coburn were also among the cofounders of Park City Handicapped Sports, the predecessor of the National Ability Center.
"He always used to say, ‘You’ve got to give before you get.’ That was one of his mottoes," said Bill Coleman, a longtime friend and former business partner. Today the JANS website lists more than 30 events and organizations that benefit from the company’s generosity.
Peterson always said that fly-fishing was his religion and he shared the gospel with his friends. Coburn said they traveled the world, combining business and fly-fishing, while Peterson doubled as an ambassador for his hometown.
"We would run into people and he would immediately tell the story of Park City and why you had to come to Park City for those summers and winters," Coburn said.
Jan Dorny Peterson was born in Salt Lake City on May 9, 1939, to Willis K. and Elizabeth Dorny Peterson. His father, an expert skier, was an early ski patrol director at Alta and also served as a ski instructor for the 10th Mountain Division in Colorado.
"In the late 1930s, my dad had the first ski shop in Salt Lake City, in the basement of Hibbs Clothing Company," Jan wrote in a blog on jans.com. "He then opened a store in Sugar House called Pete’s Sport Shop, which he ran until the early 1950s."
Like his father, Jan became an avid sportsman, concentrating on ski racing, golf and fly-fishing.
"My older brother, in his teenage years, was allowed to drive the family station wagon on ski trips to Brighton and Alta – as long as he took me with him. On those ski trips my brother would fill the car with his friends and I had to sit behind the third seat, where we usually stored everyone’s boots. But I didn’t care as long as I was able to go skiing, which I loved so much. Dad would give us $5, which covered both of our ski passes and lunch for the day."
Peterson attended East High School and the University of Utah, graduating with a degree in marketing and advertising. He earned money for tuition by working at a local supermarket and his father’s shop.
After college, Peterson joined the advertising world, working for agencies first in San Francisco and later in Salt Lake City. In 1964 he married Amanda Creer. They had two daughters, Andrea and Abbey.
In September 1971, this ad appeared on The Park Record’s classified page:
RENTAL WANTED – Couple with two small children needs home or apartment in the $200 range near Park City, furnished or unfurnished. Will sign lease. Jan Peterson, 277-6583.
Two months later, Peterson was in the paper again, as the manager of a new ski equipment, rental and repair shop at the Park City Resort Center owned by Wolfe’s Sportsman’s Headquarters. The story also noted that the Petersons had found a home to rent in Park City. the following spring Wolfe’s had a team, which included Peterson, competing in the Park City Employee Race Series.
By 1975, the Petersons had built what The Park Record called "the first log home to be constructed in the area in over 50 years a massive three-story, 3200 square foot structure built entirely of hand-cut and notched lodgepole pine logs." The house was built on Old Ranch Road, overlooking what is now the eastern edge of the Swaner Nature Preserve.
Then, in November 1978, Peterson was seriously injured in an accident on SR 224, then a two-lane highway, when a dump truck traveling in the opposite direction swerved to avoid hitting sheep in the road. He was taken to the intensive care unit at Holy Cross Hospital in Salt Lake City. Friends say his recuperation was long and difficult.
In an effort to help spark his recovery, some of these friends, Bill and Karen Coleman and Tommy and Bonnie Matthews, offered to form a partnership with Peterson in a new sporting-goods store.
"Tom and I had just sold a property that we owned together here in Park City, and committed a bunch of the funds to start JANS, and get him (Peterson) to be a partner and to run it," Coleman said.
Coleman knew exactly where Peterson would shine: "Out on the floor. That’s where he was best, with the social aspects of taking care of the people, meeting and greeting and talking and having a very high exposure in the store."
The store, JANS Mountain Outfitters, opened in September 1980 in the Mt. Air Mall on lower Park Avenue (in the space now occupied by Starbucks).
"When it comes to the suppliers, when we went to our first ski show, it was pretty easy because everybody knew who he was," Coleman said. "So he brought about a very high level of trust, which really helped JANS get its feet on the ground as a store and to build its product lines very quickly."
Within five years JANS Mountain Outfitters had added two more stores – one at Deer Valley and one on the Park City Resort Plaza – and opened Mountain Design, which offered silkscreen and embroidery service. Within another three years, the flagship store had moved into a new building on the northeast corner of Park Avenue and Deer Valley Drive. Today, the JANS group of companies includes 14 stores in Utah and Colorado and three websites. The stores now include equipment and attire for mountain biking, road biking and fly-fishing.
In 1989, local banker Russ Coburn bought a controlling interest in the business. However, he recognized the strengths of the company’s namesake.
"I had Jan as a mentor for many years when it came to marketing, and I did the banking and the business-plan side," Coburn said. "And Jan had a great sidekick, Tina Quayle, who’s been around here forever. And they did the marketing and advertising and I got to just do the numbers."
In 2012, Jan and Amanda Peterson received the Park City Chamber/Bureau’s Myles Rademan Spirit of Hospitality Award for their "outstanding dedication to the community and vision for a successful resort economy."
In recent years, the Petersons sold their house on Old Ranch Road and moved to Midway. As his health began to fail, Jan Peterson became less active in the day-to-day operation of the stores. However, Jack Walzer said that his management style continues to set the tone for customer and employee relations to this day.
"People just really liked to work for him, because he kind of exuded this kind of relationship-building with the customer," he said. "He just created that family atmosphere at work that attracted everybody. And I don’t think that was a very common thing in any kind of business."
Peterson’s survivors include his wife, Amanda, a former director of the Park City Chamber of Commerce who also played a key role in the formation of the Snyderville Basin Special Recreation District; daughter Andrea, her husband, Matthew Terwillegar, and their two children, Zachary and Lucy; daughter Abbey and her husband, Joseph Cordery; and two brothers, Gary and Tim Peterson.
A celebration of Jan Peterson’s life will be held at the JANS store at 1600 Park Ave. in Park City on June 18-19.
Nearly a dozen Park City and Summit County officials sat on a public panel Wednesday to outline the way forward on wildfire management and to answer questions from residents.