Two Locals Fine-Tune a Business, Culture

By Beacon Staff

It’s four o’clock on Wednesday afternoon and there’s a group of kids watching a skateboarding movie in Spirit Skate Shop, joking around with a decidedly older kid. He’s 25, to be exact. But he’s not out of place. In fact, he manages the shop.

His name is James Reeves and he is working with his best friend, Spirit’s founder and owner Mark DeLorme, to build a skateboard culture in Kalispell that’s not shunned or on the fringe of society, but instead is a part of the community.

And they say they’ve made a lot of progress in two years.

“We’re at a place now when the community is beginning to support building (the skateboard culture),” Reeves said. “It’s a result of the community working together.”

It’s also a result of their efforts.

DeLorme and Reeves skate with local kids daily. They know their parents. They hold skateboarding camps, employ high school kids at the shop and represent the skateboarders’ voice at Kalispell Parks and Recreation, which manages Woodland Skate Park. Last year they assembled a skate team of 12 and took them to every skate park in the state. DeLorme has aspirations to form a statewide skate foundation.

“I take being a role model pretty seriously,” Reeves said. “These kids know what I’m doing from morning to night.”

Skateboarding’s increasing national popularity combined with Flathead Valley’s growth made it inevitable that Kalispell’s skate scene would grow, Reeves said. What he and DeLorme are trying to do is influence what direction it grows – with the community, not away from it.

Changing public perception is a big part of achieving that positive growth, they said. They don’t believe that skateboarding should be viewed as strictly an underground countercultural movement. It can be a cultural movement, and a popular one.

A major difficulty in getting the community and the skate culture to work together is that skateboarders are stereotyped, Reeves said. He and DeLorme challenge that stereotype. In their shop a sign says, “Drugs are a dead end.”

Stereotypes have improved in Kalispell, Reeves said, adding, “You can’t break stereotypes with everyone, but it’s definitely changed.”

Michael Baker, Director of Parks and Recreation, said DeLorme and Reeves are the only skate shop owners that actively deal with him, often helping clean up the skate park.

“They’re trying to bring out the positive, the constructive benefits of skateboarding,” Baker said. “They do it very well.”

DeLorme and Reeves are best friends from when they went to Flathead High School together in the late 1990s. They have come a long way since the days when they tried to give the valley’s skate scene exposure by distributing homemade skateboarding videos throughout the Northwest.

When DeLorme was in high school, he estimates there were about 20 skateboarders in the whole Flathead Valley. Today there are more than 20 on any given evening at the skate park alone, with a host of others waiting and wishing the park was bigger.

“I would say the (skate) scene has grown at least 150 percent here in the last couple of years,” DeLorme said.

On May 18 Spirit Kalispell celebrated its two-year anniversary, for which DeLorme will hold a skate jam and barbecue in June. DeLorme originally opened the shop with a $40,000 loan and a few years of studying finance at colleges in Spokane and San Diego. The shop’s rapid growth has surprised him.

“It’s been insane,” he said.

Most months increased 30 to 50 percent in gross profits from the first year to the second year, DeLorme said. February doubled profits. His consistent customer base is at least 300, while other people, especially tourists, file in regularly too. Customers come from surrounding areas like Polson, Browning and even Canada because skate gear is expensive across the border.

Not bad for a shop that DeLorme said “had basically nothing at the beginning.”

“We started out with a wall of skateboards, and half of them were our own,” he said.

Today they have racks of clothes; DVDs; big name skateboards; a large display case of skate accessories; and their own Spirit Kalispell line of gear. They emphasize that they are a “skater-run shop,” which separates them from other places in town that sell skateboarding gear but are not necessarily skate shops.

While Urban Skate Shop is the town’s other true skate shop – its focus is skateboarding, not biking, skiing or anything else – Race Nagel, one of the many kids who hang out at the Spirit Kalispell everyday, said there’s one big difference.

“There’s not any other shop owners out there skating with us,” he said.