Paul Faessel is looking at a pile of horse manure with a puzzled expression on his face.
“Now where did this horse come from?” he said, standing on Main Street’s sidewalk in Kalispell, in front of the Thai Palace restaurant. “It’s been happening at this spot.”
It’s Thursday morning, and Faessel is making his usual rounds cleaning up downtown for the Kalispell Business Improvement District. Every day, Faessel pulls a yellow wagon loaded with garden tools and buckets around the city blocks between First Avenue West and First Avenue East, and from Idaho Street to 4th Street.
With an eye for detail that other pedestrians might miss, he comes across some unusual items – like the mysterious horse droppings that have begun appearing every morning. Faessel suspects someone must be parking a horse trailer there in the evenings.
He pulls a square-blade shovel from his cart and clears the gutter, then sweeps the adjacent sidewalk. Satisfied, he continues south.
“A lot of what I do is just make things tidy,” Faessel said, stopping here and there to pull a weed out of a crack in the sidewalk. “Making things look really nice – that’s the unifying thing.”
Along the way, he passes storefronts newly occupied by businesses, as well as commercial buildings that have been vacant for years, a testimony to downtown Kalispell’s erratic fortunes during the last three years of the recession. The downtown entrepreneurs who participate in the Business Improvement District (BID) hired Faessel last year to keep the city clean and well tended, whether a building is occupied or not.
“We wanted to have a stronger focus with regard to the presentation of downtown Kalispell,” Pam Carbonari, coordinator for the BID and a former mayor, said. “Paul is there to put forth a good, friendly face to downtown.”
If someone needs directions or help with bags, Faessel is there. In the winter, he helps shovel snow.
“It usually depends on what needs to be done and the weather,” Faessel said.
“I try to have a vision of, ‘What do the eyes see?’ if a person is coming in from out of town,” he added. “So that people will remember that.”
Downtown business owners work hard to maintain their storefronts, Faessel said, but some of the vacancies require attention. Outside the building where the “Chicken Noodle Café” sign still stands, Faessel stops and pulls weeds around the brick tiles beneath the stairs descending from the rooftop patio.
“These folks just got up and left in some of these businesses; there was no way to take care of these properties,” Faessel said. “We’ve got to make things look nice.”
Faessel worked as a greenskeeper at the Frontier Roadhouse golf course before taking his current job, and views the two as similar.
“I tend to do a lot of weeding,” he said. “That’s very satisfying.”
Faessel, who has lived in Kalispell nine years, also plays upright bass for the Glacier Symphony and coaches the Whitefish High jazz band on Fridays. Performing is clearly his passion, and he speaks knowledgably about the bass lines in Mozart’s requiem while looking for litter downtown.
Faessel, 52, grew up in Aspen, Colo., before it became the wealthy resort town it is today. A former trader on Wall Street, he moved to the valley to be closer to his family, began playing with the symphony, and realized he didn’t want to leave. Though he has lived all over the country, he recalled being struck, as a teenager, by a visit to Stockholm, Sweden.
“It was amazing how clean it was and I was dumbfounded,” Faessel said. “The alleys were clean, and that just had a big impression on me.”
“There was a lot of civic pride in just the way that the place looked,” he added. “I think that was important.”
Faessel feels it in Kalispell too, and walking with him, the coherence of the community is evident. Store owners, postal workers and an elderly man on a three-wheeled cycle all greet Faessel as they pass by in what looks to be part of a routine morning.
Behind the newspaper kiosks next to Norm’s News, Faessel finds a sleeping bag in a stuff sack that appears to be in good condition. It doesn’t look like trash; someone may have dropped it here to pick it up later. He tucks it behind a newspaper box, and decides to check on it later. If no one takes it after a day or two, he’ll find someone who can use it.
Faessel concedes that over the course of his work he has developed a feeling of ownership over downtown Kalispell, a sense of responsibility for its appearance.
“It’s kind of like a garden,” he said. “I treat it like gardening.”
The bed in front of a building on the corner of 4th Street and First Avenue West is too overgrown to pull by hand. Faessel decides he’ll need to return with a weed whacker. He stuffs what weeds he can into a bucket, and continues up the sidewalk.
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