Each river in Montana has its own personality, flowing or falling or forcing its way through the landscape and into the hearts and minds of the people living near its waters.
So too are the communities in Montana individual and wholly their own. But there are commonalities among them — rivers and lakes attract recreationists of all kinds, just as Montana’s towns offer a diverse assortment of outdoor adventures.
This basic common thread of appreciating water and hoping to get more people out to enjoy it is the reasoning behind Mike Garcia’s decision to open his new shop in Evergreen, Northern Lights Rivers Lakes & Oceans, which sells everything a river-runner needs.
Garcia has decades of outdoor retail and equipment sales under his belt, having been the proprietor of Northern Lights Trading Co. in Bozeman since 1979. This June, he added a shop in the Kalispell area as a way to become part of the river and lake culture here.
“The only other place I was ever interested in living in Montana was the Whitefish and Kalispell area,” Garcia said in an interview last week, as he made the trip between his two stores. “Now, I can say I got a store next to Glacier and a store next to Yellowstone.”
Northern Lights has had a dominant presence in the outdoor gear market in Bozeman, serving customers for nearly 40 years. Garcia said he started that business as a small retail shop to complement his work with the first rafting company to run the Gallatin River.
Eventually, though, the retail aspect of the business began to take over, and Garcia sold his portion of the rafting company to focus solely on outfitting folks for their adventures, becoming a “full-fledged, complete outdoors shop” with equipment for all kinds of activities, not just those on the water.
That changed in 2008, when Garcia sold everything and went south to the South American country of Chile, where he helped his oldest son, Ian Garcia, start his own business. That, the elder Garcia said, has grown into one of the biggest watersports-based companies in all of South America. Mike spends nine months of the year running his businesses in Montana and then heads to Chile for the winter, when it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
Another son, Evan, is a fully sponsored professional kayaker with his own outdoors business, and son Nathan is an expedition kayaker. Sara Garcia, Mike’s wife, also works in the Bozeman shop, rounding out what is truly a family business.
Two years after selling the Northern Lights business, Garcia bought it back, approaching it with a new sense of what he wanted to do.
“I had to re-plan, and the first plan I made was to get out of a bunch of aspects of retail and focus on watersports,” he said.
That focus includes all types of watercraft, from kayaks and canoes to all kinds of rafts. The shop, located at the intersection of Reserve Drive and LaSalle Road, took over the space formerly occupied by Replay Sports.
When Replay closed, Garcia saw an opportunity to fill the vacuum left behind. He signed the new lease on May 26 and opened up shop the first week in June. His only complaint about business in the Flathead Valley thus far is that he wasn’t able to open a month sooner.
“There’s all the great rivers and all the great water up there,” Garcia said. “So far, business has been good. Everything’s been favorable.”
Even the trips back and forth from his stores aren’t terrible, he said, because he knows he’s headed to one of two of the most beautiful places in Montana regardless, where the rivers run wild and the humans try to play along.
“That’s an easy thing to get up and put my cap on every morning because I’ve been living it my whole life,” Garcia said. “I paddle everything. I don’t care what the boat is — if I’m on the water, I’m happy.”
For more information on Northern Lights Rivers Lakes & Oceans, stop by the shop at 2593 U.S. Highway 2 E., Suite 3 or call (406) 314-6200 or visit www.riverslakesoceansksp.com.
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