SANDPOINT - While Coldwater Creek's closure changes the community forever, it also creates fresh hope for what it could become.
For Nic and Lindsey Kuhn, that hope means doing what they do best - recruiting and graphic design, respectively - in the town they want their family to call home. For Liz Curry, it means establishing networks in both business and art that are self-sustaining on a local level. For Brooke Deccio, it means turning Azalea Handpicked Style, a consignment store in Foster's Crossing, from a passion project into a thriving business.
"God has given all of us the opportunity to make these decisions for ourselves," Curry said.
These dreams may be intensely personal. However, local economic development officials are increasingly in the business of helping turn personal dreams into practical realities. They laid the groundwork Monday with a conference that will hopefully help several Coldwater Creek alumni use their professionally-honed skills to establish businesses they can one day call Sandpoint-grown.
The potential entrepreneurs of Coldwater Creek have plenty of role models to emulate as they move forward. Many of them, including Fred Colby of Laughing Dog Brewing, Charles Manning of Kochava and Tracy Gibson of Ruby's Lube attended the conference to tell their stories and give advice to the dozens of attendees.
"This is a great town," Colby said. "There are challenges (in starting a local business), but they can all be overcome."
While they make very different products, Manning, Colby and Gibson are united by one element: passion. They love what they do and were willing to take risks to make it their livelihood.
Manning said for two years, his software development company's existence hung in the balance from week to week. Colby, a former Coldwater Creek employee himself, struggled to acquire a business loan that would get his dream brewery off the ground. For Gibson, the difficulty was finding the right market and the right business partners to build Ruby's Lube, a multi-purpose personal lubricant. In all three cases, persistence paid off.
"Be comfortable in discomfort," Manning said. "That's where the sweat comes out, and when the sweat comes out, greatness happens."
Local economic development officials are committed to nurturing potential greatness any way they can. Sandpoint Planning Director Jeremy Grimm is accepting applications for participation in the Sandpoint Business Incubator program. He's also working on an agreement with CTA Architects to provide high-quality office space for a qualifying start-up until company's lease expires in September.
Kate McAlister of the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce and Charles Buck of the University of Idaho also offered their full assistance to Coldwater Creek personnel.
Of course, the most pertinent question is what separates a successful start-up from a failed one, according to Bill Jhung of the Idaho Small Business Development Center. In his view, that element is clarity. Successful entrepreneurs know their customer, know their capabilities and know what their life's mission entailed. A clear recognition of one's values and goals are will lead to more incisive business decisions, he said.
"When clients see (the SBDC), it's because they either don't have a mission for life or it's very fuzzy," he added.
Deccio took the words to heart as she prepares to put more energy into Azalea Handpicked Style. She's committed to bringing clarity to the customers she's after and the practices that define the business.
"It began mostly as a creative outlet, but as I brought in (more clients), I could see the potential," she said.
Despite the encouragement, economic development officials like Grimm know some Coldwater Creek associates will need to find new employment. Many will likely be forced to move away, Grimm said. Others have already been able to find employment in town.
Kochava is flooded with applications, while Lindsey Kuhn said she secured a position with Litehouse Foods. That will keep the family in good shape while Nic Kuhn expands his new focus as an independent recruiter.
"It's really incredible that they've given us the opportunity to do that," he said.
Regardless of what businesses may be born from the conference, attendees said they took away plenty of food for thought. While some doors have closed, there are others newly opened. For them, that's a source of great hope. And hope might be the most important ingredient in building something new.
"Amazing things can happen when you follow your heart," McAlister said.