Despite Business Vacancies, Evergreen Confident in Economic Potential

Evergreen Chamber of Commerce, developers promoting the unincorporated community

By Maggie Dresser
A stray shopping cart in the barren parking lot of the shuttered Shopko in Evergreen on Sept. 5, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

After multiple businesses in Evergreen shut down within a short period, developers and business groups still retain high hopes for the unincorporated community’s growth and expansion.

With Green Hyundai relocating south of Kalispell, Shopko and OfficeMax sitting vacant and Kmart operating in its final months before closing in December, Evergreen doesn’t offer the impression of a booming business district.

“It does give a feeling of total vacancy,” Montana West Economic Development President Jerry Meerkatz said.

But despite these voids in retail, Meertkatz suspects developers will take interest in the Shopko and Kmart buildings based on their highly trafficked locations on U.S. Highway 2.

While developers are already swooping in to transform OfficeMax into a Cash&Carry, Meerkatz says no others have shown interest in Shopko or Kmart yet. But he says both spaces are a great business opportunity, especially with the Woodlands development behind Shopko, a senior living condominium community set to open in 2020.

Woodlands developer Curt Lund says he was interested in buying the Shopko property since it conveniently lies in front of his development, until he saw the price tag of $5.1 million.

Lund is skeptical about the retail market in Evergreen and believes the Shopko space is too large for today’s retail concept.

“I don’t think retail will be the solution for that store,” he said.

Although retail might not be the most viable market in Evergreen, Lund says the town is growing rapidly and he sees a lot of potential. According to U.S. Census data, Evergreen’s population was 7,552 in 2017, up from 6,283 in 2013.

Lund says the unincorporated town’s lack of its own government doesn’t help with expansion.

“I think that’s a huge disadvantage,” Lund said.

However, it doesn’t look like Evergreen will become incorporated anytime soon.

Evergreen Chamber of Commerce President Ken Kalvig says there are laws against its incorporation and that it’s unlikely Kalispell would absorb it into their city limits, meaning Evergreen seems destined to remain without a city government and under only the Flathead County Commission’s authority.

Kalispell recently annexed the new Glacier Rail Park, which was formerly part of Evergreen. The industrial development area now lies within Kalispell city limits.

But Evergreen is expected to benefit significantly from the rail park with new jobs and infrastructure. Meerkatz says Northwest Drywall and CHS Kalispell will move into the park this fall and Montana West Economic Development is currently working on a third tenant.

“Evergreen could and should take ownership of that as well, regardless that it’s annexed in Kalispell,” Meerkatz says. “It’s a part of their infrastructure down there.”

As the rail park draws more businesses, Evergreen’s economy will inevitably grow with other services, Meerkatz says.

The Evergreen Chamber of Commerce has pushed to revitalize the town by cleaning up storefronts and is seeking to install new sidewalks.

“All those kinds of things show vibrancy, investment and pride in the area,” Meerkatz said.

Since the chamber’s inception seven years ago, it has worked to expand businesses, promote safety and collaborate with the Montana Department of Transportation to improve roads and become a higher priority. It’s also promoting Evergreen’s community, and hopes to build an outdoor community gathering location where they can host events and concerts.

The chamber created a new slogan for the town entitled, “Evergreen is for Everyone.”

Other projects include land-use zoning, which was adopted by Flathead County, and zoning overlay, which allows industry to move into commercial zones.

A levy was also passed this year for Evergreen Fire Rescue to buy new equipment and provide medical insurance for responders.

Even with Evergreen’s growth and infrastructure, empty businesses remain in Evergreen. But Kalvig isn’t worried. “There are always vacancies no matter what community you are in,” he said.

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