>"It's a big chain with poorly trained and low paid staff that don't care."
I find the staff to be active, motivated perhaps in part by employee-discounts on gear, and (I presume) flexible working hours who enjoy talking about stuff they like to do. I worked 3 years in a backpacking / ski shop and called it an "toy store for adults" (because "adult toy store" sends the wrong message). I'd much rather sell stuff people ENJOY using than stuff they dread getting like auto repair, a new dish washer, or tax services. I have noted, in Berkeley, Seattle and Anchorage that some staff are there a LONG time. Like decades. The tend to be pretty outdoorsy, tanned, and speak from experience using the gear and traveling a lot. I suspect REI employment fits well with a highly-active outdoorsy lifestyle, if you keep your expenses down.
Sometimes REI staff seems inexperienced to me, but then how could I find someone who has only been alive for half the time I've been backpacking tremendously experienced? When I'm out of my comfort zone - looking at bicycles, or PLBs, or current rock climbing hardware, then I find their experience helpful.
As to the OP, if someone sent an essay to an REI employee about, basically, one person's worth of BPing gear ($1000), and perhaps gave the same sense some of us are getting about an attention-seeking, hard-to-please customer, yeah, I'd be quick in my response. It was an EMAIL! That's different than a flesh&blood person in front of you in the store. Look how long BPL members will discuss, debate, and argue about truly minor differences in gear and, in the end, not buy anything!
I love the Nordstorm's suggestion. I just dropped $600 there on Saturday and the service was lovely - exactly the right level of helpfulness - and the measuring, tailoring, and shipping to where I needed it was all included. If there was a backpacking equivalent (there isn't, but Eddie Bauer and Patagonia are maybe as close as it comes), then that $1000 for 12 pounds of REI gear becomes $1500 (and it might weigh more).
In both the backpacking and microcomputer stores I worked in, we'd get "kickers" (as in tire-kickers who are just window-shopping from INSIDE the store) and "strokers" (who wanted to show how much they knew and be told now smart they were). If we had nothing else to do, we'd engage with them, but if there was a more serious customer or the book rack needed to be straightened, we'd excuse ourselves pretty quickly.