Despite Closures, Optimism Reigns in Evergreen

By Beacon Staff

Like most of Flathead County, Evergreen knows what the recession’s ripples look like. In the past year alone, the area has lost three major retailers, including Ashley Furniture and Walmart in 2010.

The third, Kari Dodge, announced it was going out of business last month.

Several business owners said the recession has had significant impact and will likely affect the area for some time, but they believe Evergreen will survive through adaptation, as it has for years.

Flathead County Commissioner Pam Holmquist was born and raised in Evergreen, and still operates Rocky Mountain Marine there. She said that while the recent closures are unfortunate, the community still has potential for business opportunities.

“I really believe in Evergreen,” Holmquist said. “They are a great community, very business-friendly.”

Holmquist asserted that Evergreen is experiencing the same economic hardships as the rest of the county, something she hopes to counter with the newly created Flathead County Coalition.

The group, consisting of local leaders from the Flathead’s various municipalities, will focus on job creation in the valley, which in turn could affect Evergreen, she said.

“I’m going to do whatever I can to help Evergreen,” Holmquist said.

Holmquist acknowledged, however, that having a major business, such as Walmart, move to another part of the valley is different than if the business picked up and left all together since it diverts traffic to another part of town.

But TJ Wendt, a State Farm Insurance agent in Evergreen for five years, said he believes that the recent closures could become a positive attribute for the area.

Wendt said he sees potential for Evergreen to turn into a light-manufacturing center, with access via U.S. Highway 2, the rail system and the airport. It could complement the strip of retail businesses north of Kalispell, he said.

“We have lost some businesses, which means we do have some available capacity,” he said. “I’m excited about it actually. When we pull out of this thing we’re in a position of strength.”

At Western Building Center, manager Craig Maltby said he’s seen plenty of shifts in the Evergreen economy during his 40 years there, but it’s tough to see a major business like Kari Dodge leave.

“I really hate to see those guys leaving,” Maltby said. “It’s a shame to see those places go out of business, of course.”

The recent recession has caused a big dip in business for WBC, Maltby said, but he still thinks there is plenty of traffic passing by on Highway 2 and that Evergreen has a strong business-minded community.

And despite the fact that it appears Kalispell is growing to the north, Maltby said he has faith in his community.

“We’ve got some great businessmen out in Evergreen,” he said. “It definitely looks like Kalispell’s moving that way but Evergreen is strong. There’s a lot of people in Evergreen.”

B.J. Lupton at Snappy Sport Senter said he has seen growth shift toward and away from Evergreen, and he is unsure if the recent business closures are anything more than a symptom of a down economy.

“I really don’t know if it means anything. I guess I’ve been doing this since 1972; over those 40 years you see things come and go,” Lupton said.

Lupton, who Holmquist asked to work with the Flathead County Coalition, said Evergreen’s economy should rebound once the overall economy recovers.

“I think things are going to be fine once we get through these current economic times and hopefully a better political climate in our country,” Lupton said.

Holmquist said she thought that the relationship between Evergreen and the city of Kalispell has improved, which she believes to be one of the key components for Evergreen’s success.

Wendt, who Holmquist also asked to contribute to the Flathead County Coalition, agreed that the county’s economic future depends on positive collaboration among leaders.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen without some effort, but that effort’s going to have to come from a lot of places,” Wendt said.

Maltby said he knows that the area is feeling the recession’s squeeze, but remained optimistic.

“I think Evergreen’s alive and well,” Maltby said.

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