Businesses start despite economic fears

Posted 8/6/09

A few Powell residents, though, optimistic about the future and about Powell, have done just that so far in 2009.

Five new businesses have opened in downtown Powell, and a sixth is providing a new service to the community.

The oldest of the …

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Businesses start despite economic fears


{gallery}08_04_09/economy{/gallery}Mistie Ecklund arranges clothing at Sticks and Stones Monday. The boutique is one of several new businesses to open in the downtown area in 2009. Despite global economic troubles, the small business owners have decided to venture out into the business world. Tribune photo by Toby Bonner (Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series on new and changing Powell businesses.) National economic news has been gloomy for more than a year. While the full effects of the downturn haven't hit Powell yet, right now doesn't seem like the ideal time to open a new business in the community.

A few Powell residents, though, optimistic about the future and about Powell, have done just that so far in 2009.

Five new businesses have opened in downtown Powell, and a sixth is providing a new service to the community.

The oldest of the new ventures is Sticks and Stones, a boutique opened by Mistie and Scott Ecklund in March, because, Mistie Ecklund said, Powell “needs something fun.”

“Our stuff is just stuff that's going to make you smile,” she said.

The store carries mostly women's accessories and some women's clothing, but it's also an outlet for wood furniture Scott constructs. He has been selling his work from Cody, but the couple decided they could do it in Powell. In addition, the store offers tanning.

Mistie said it wasn't her intention to go into competition with other stores when she opened her store.

“I didn't get anything they had in other places in town when I opened,” she said. “Powell is too small for that.”

Instead, Mistie said, her plan is to offer Powellites a chance to pamper themselves without traveling to Billings. In a slow economy, she said, people will be more likely to shop locally.

The Ecklunds were able to make the jump into a small retail business because they are not dependent on the store for their livelihood. Both have full-time jobs, she as a teacher at Powell Middle School and he with Marathon.

Mistie said she has been happy with the store's performance so far. Her customers' age range is “anywhere from 9 to whatever,” and she has seen customers from Cody as well as Powell. She said her customers have been very loyal.

A few blocks away on, Stacy McCarthy also jumped into the specialized-retail game. Her store, Sunny Surprises, carrying a variety of clothing and accessories, opened June 9. Currently, most of her inventory is women's clothing, but she also will carry children's and men's clothing, and she plans to add maternity clothes, which she says is difficult to find in the area.

“I'm trying to carry new clothing you can't buy around here,” McCarthy said. “I'm trying to keep prices competitive so people can stay in Powell to shop. I want to cater to high-school and college students, but also older age groups and older men.”

McCarthy, who has lived in Powell for four years after moving from Pennsylvania, said she has been in retail most of her life, and she really didn't consider the economy when she opened.

“I didn't worry too much about the economy,” she said. “You still have to wait in line at the restaurants, so I don't think it's bad.”

So far, she said, her business on Absaroka Street has done well. Crazy Days introduced a lot of people to her store, she said, and her July business was better than June's.

At this point, McCarthy, who also holds down a full-time job, is putting the store's income back into the business.

Unlike Ecklund and McCarthy, Nick Allen does not have an outside job to support the photography studio he opened June 1, but he said he has done well since moving to Powell from Boise, Idaho, where he started his business out of his home.

Establishing his first commercial location has been part of that success, and he has drawn more customers here than in his former location.

“I've gotten more shoots in the past two months in Powell than I did in a year in Boise,” Allen said.

Allen didn't give much thought to the economy when he opened in Powell.

“When someone asks me why I started a business in this economy,” Allen said, “I tell them I didn't know any better.”

Allen said he hasn't seen anything negative in the economic situation so far, and he plans to put his energy into the business rather than worrying about the economy.

“We'll focus on the business, not the economy, and work just as hard as we can,” Allen said. “We include God in all of our business decisions and have faith.”

Another photography studio will be opening soon downtown, and although not actually a new business, it represents an effort to expand by the two local photographers.

C. Wensky Photography and Mylov Photography will share the studio and possibly some equipment, but each will operate her business independently. Both Kim Horton and Carla Wensky have full time jobs and have offered photography on the side for some time and have decided to get more serious.

Wensky said the economy played little role in taking the step, but added that it does present some risk because “now we have overhead.”

“It's just time for me to go in that direction,” Wensky said.

The economy was “not a consideration” for Laura Scarbro, who, with partner Brandi Miller, started a curbside recycling business in June.

“It's not like a normal business,” Scarbro said. “It's not primarily for profit.”

Scarbro said she and Miller started Curbside Recycling with low expectations, and with a minimal investment, because she sees recycling as becoming more important in the future. Helping to increase it is part of her measurement for success.

“It's not about money, but about weighing recycling against the implications of not recycling,” she said.

Despite the low expectations, Scarbro said there has been a positive response to her business, which will pick up customers' recyclable materials at the curb and deliver them to the recycling center. She said they have signed up 24 customers so far, at least half of whom have never recycled before, and she already has paid back her original investment.

Further growth may require a bigger investment, she said, and she already is wondering if she needs a bigger trailer, and possibly a bigger vehicle to pull it. But she is convinced her service is something the Powell area needs, and she hopes to fill that need regardless of the economy.

Profit also is not the main purpose for opening Why Knot Crafts, a less-conventional venture opened by Elbert Denniston and Wanda Vanderpool in May. Denniston, who works multiple jobs, is the owner of the business, while Vanderpool and her children operate it on a volunteer basis.

The store offers a variety of craft activities for kids, including ceramics, woodworking, and fabric work, and will provide movies for them to watch while they work.

Denniston said the business was opened in memory of Vanderpool's son, who died playing a “choking game,” in order to provide alternative activities for the community's young people.

The business currently is open as a profit-making business, but Denniston is exploring non-profit status. He hopes to be able to cover rent and utilities and put any profits back into the community.

“We're definitely not doing it to make money,” Vanderpool said. “We're just trying to help kids. Kids need something to do, and there's not many things for people to do at a reasonable price.”

The Boys and Girls Club has been bringing kids to the store, Denniston said, and he hopes to attract birthday parties as well as individuals and small groups.

“Out biggest problem is getting the word out,” Denniston said. “With a tight budget, that's hard to do.”

Vanderpool said the store will try to work with kids who can't afford to participate.

Recent reports indicate the national economy may have stabilized, but that the recovery may be slow. Regardless, the new business owners in Powell are optimistic about their ventures and hope to contribute to the local economy.