Several new retail and service shops are moving onto Main Street of downtown Kalispell, a sign of what business owners say is a comeback for the district. Still, even as newcomers revitalize the area, other businesses are closing up, continuing one of downtown’s historic struggles: keeping all the stores open at the same time.
This past weekend Kalispell resident Mary Pool opened My Secret Treasures, a combined vintage clothing and jewelry store and vendor mall for consignment clothes, at 231 Main St. The location is the former home of The Refinery, a women’s clothing store, which has moved across the street into a combined store with Mimi’s Bridal.
Since moving here last year from Albany, Ore., where she operated a similar store, Pool has run a booth in a downtown antique mall under the western store on Main Street, building inventory and waiting for the right storefront.
“I think a business like this belongs downtown – that’s where I had my shop in Albany, too,” she said. “If we keep mom-and-pop shops downtown we’ll give people a reason to come here and make it a shopping destination.”
Come September, another retail store, Fawn Boutique, will add to downtown’s shopping offerings, when it opens at 219 Main St. – just a few doors down from Pool’s shop. The boutique will carry higher-end women’s clothing and maternity wear and feature a denim bar, with various styles and brands of jeans, says co-owner Lynde Price.
“There’s just not a lot of opportunity or places around here for women to shop in a boutique atmosphere – a different environment than the mall,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of professional women who would like somewhere else to shop.”
For Price and co-owners Alisha Shilling and Hailey Morin, opening downtown is a conscious choice: “We want to be a part of the revitalization of downtown,” Price said. “I think downtown just needs a push and we can provide that.”
Price pointed to Camas Creek Yarn as a recent downtown addition that has not only sparked foot traffic, but also set a standard for other downtown businesses. “Their building looks awesome,” Price, who also runs Flathead Health and Fitness with husband Tim Price, said. “It’s about putting blood, sweat and equity into a place and taking a lot of pride in your store.”
The owners of My Secret Treasures and Fawn Boutique aren’t alone in investing in downtown. There’s Camas Creek and its neighboring refurbished apartments. A new barber shop is going in next to The Refinery and Mimi’s Bridal and Moxi Salon has moved onto Main Street as well. Two Christian shops have also recently opened: The PB&J Christian Bookstore and coffee shop in the KM Building, and Overflowing Cup, a café and coffee shop with a bookstore in the back.
Shop owners agree the surge in retail shops is exactly what downtown needs. Offices fill vacancies, but don’t attract people. People want shops, and downtown shops must offer something that box stores don’t.
Still, there are vacancies. Even as the new stores refurbish and open their doors, others are closing up shop. After eight years, The Lilac Lizard, a quirky mix of body jewelry, tattooing and clothes, closed this winter. Glacier Gym moved from its Main Street location. Sykes restaurant, a downtown institution and defacto community center, is shutting its doors. The Main Street Arts and Crafts moved this month to a new location on the south end of town behind Sawbucks, leaving its 21,000-square-foot, three-level space open.
The key to seeing downtown really flourish, storeowners say, is to get the shops all here at the same time. And, they say, that may require the removal of some obstacles – namely the lack of parking.
“Parking was our number one challenge,” Rick Latta, Main Street Arts and Crafts owner, said. “When you don’t have big-ticket items you have to run a lot of people through the store, and to do that you need convenient parking.”
The city and Valley Bank are still considering moving forward with a proposal to swap downtown lots and tear down the current bank to make room for a half-block parking garage along First Avenue West, Mayor Pam Kennedy said. She added that resolving a lawsuit over Kalispell’s business improvement district would also provide needed funded to help the downtown flourish.
“I’m ecstatic about the new development that’s happening,” Kennedy said. “Sure we’ve had some businesses leave, but we’ve always had new ones coming in. Our downtown has survived, when many downtowns around the nation have gone completely dark.”
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