THE MOUNTAIN TRADERS STORY
WHO WE ARE & HOW WE STARTED
It all started with hard luck & an old plow truck 25 years ago. Back then we found ourselves having to move off Baldy Mountain and out of the north Idaho area after only 1 year of scratching to survive. We barely had time to get our bearings in the challenges of mountain life when we reluctantly put our home up for sale. Despite its rough spots, it was our first ever, and it took everything we had just to make the payments. We were borrowing from the kids’ piggy banks just to buy toilet paper & fuel for our truck. Yoke’s seemed a million miles away.
Todd’s first job out of college landed us here where we had hoped & planned to plant our family roots….forever. Little did we know at the time that we could never make it on the meager salary the Sandpoint company paid him. Later, they admitted to “grossly underpaying” employees. With heavy hearts we realized moving was necessary to survive, so Todd found another job out of the area. Then the real challenge came. We had to sell everything we had…. easier said than done.
We knew selling the homestead would be a challenge, but the plow truck? A walk in the park….right? After all, who doesn’t need a plow truck around here? Scraping pennies we advertised in the paper, but much to our disappointment, no one wanted to come all the way up a steep mountain to see our faithful truck. This forced us into having to find a place to park it out in the open. The only place we could find was Ponderay, and it was about 30 minutes from our home. With sale signs in the windows, we received a fair number of calls. The problem came when we would drive the hour round trip just to find out that we were stood up, over & over again. It was as if north Idaho was giving us a kick in the pants on the way out the door! Finally, the truck sold, and with sore bottoms & soot covered kids, we looked back wondering if we were ever going to see this place again. For some reason, the longing was still there.
Life took us a few more places, and then we landed on our farm, our first ever, back in the mid-west. For simple minded city folk, we learned an incredible amount in those 10 years, through good experiences & hard lessons. We raised practically everything, grew a weedy garden, milked our own cows & goats, and learned to cut our own hay. The first few years we heard quiet snickers out of the neighbors, and perhaps a few peals of laughter from the hosts of the upper Heavens, but eventually we started to get the hang of things and to get over fears of the unknown. We were blessed to say the least. But still, we didn’t yet feel like this was home. North Idaho once again began to weigh heavy on our hearts.
During this time, the reality of how hard life had been living in those mountains came flooding back to my memories. It got me thinking about that old plow truck & the trouble we had finding a buyer. For some reason, I could not let that memory go, as it disturbed me deeply. I started to imagine what we could do to make life easier for others if we could make it back to north Idaho. I began to envision a business model that would help to serve the community, making it easier for the neighbors in the hills & far off places to buy and sell. A kind of trading post, made up of local goods of all sorts, from hunting equipment, tools & trucks, to antiques, handmade goods, honey & jam. But it needed to be more than that. It was to be a place where classes could be taught, worthy of North Idaho living. A place where the people could find help from trusted neighbors if they need it in hard times (are we there yet?). A place where the struggling family can treat their young ones to a few pieces of penny candy, a rare treat for those striving to make ends meet. A place where people can give to others out of their surplus. A place where neighbors can meet neighbors, building much needed trust.
Although it seemed so clear, so real, we saw no way in the world this would happen anytime soon. However, we decided to scrape together what we could for funds and purchase some “just in case” land in north Idaho. Within a short time after the purchase & completely out of left field, Todd had a job offer back in Sandpoint. This was an incredible shock & surprise. After much prayer, we liquidated our farm over the next two months. The company graciously paid for our large family to move out to the area. We sailed along in a simple house near the busy highway for the next few years, making plans to build our home on the next mountain. Mountain Traders was on the to-do list, but way at the bottom…. a someday-maybe business. Just as we were approaching the time to put the building process of our home in motion, Covid struck. Plans were dashed, Todd’s job at risk more than ever, we were feeling stuck & hopeless.
Unfortunately, much of our farm sale money was invested in part of the land we had no way of partaking in now. We had already put in a well & widened the road in places up the mountain to the beautiful homesite. With little money left in our account, I asked Todd if now was the time to start Mountain Traders. After praying it through, he agreed to at least look for the open doors, and open they did. We soon met the Cook family, long time owners of the old Elmira Store & Café. They were looking to lease & we were looking to rent as well. As it turns out, they had been praying for a Christian family to come & lease the store and here we were like orphans on their doorstep. They worked hard to create an affordable Mountain Traders atmosphere in the renovations of the building.
With the days growing close to opening, we needed merchandise! We put out messages to the community, and the first people to approach us were local artisans. Not what we expected to start the business, but several were frustrated that they were being shut out of their holiday craft & antique shows due to responses to Covid. How could we turn them away? Before I knew it, Mountain Traders was transforming into a real sight for sore eyes, and out in the middle of nowhere. Word began to spread, and many other sellers came with furniture, taxidermy, jewelry, tools, etc., etc. As for our part, we surrounded the consignors with retail that best fits the interests of the area. This is where our own best money is made, but all sales are necessary to pay the rent! 😉As we are nearing our 1-year anniversary, October 2nd, we are close to 200 consignors of all kinds. With our “man-cave” & “she-shed” now open, we continue to grow!
Many of you have welcomed us with your warm hearts & your kind, encouraging words. Others have brought our family food out of their surplus, to which we have been most grateful. Thank you! We are so glad that there are good people here. It makes serving this community enjoyable to say the least.
As for who we are, Todd & I have been married for over 30 years & we have 10 children together, ranging from adults to age 3. The two oldest live elsewhere, but as of now, there are 10 of our mouths to feed on a daily basis & the store to run. We need to see Mountain Traders succeed as much as anyone. Having worked our own farm, I don’t think we have ever worked as hard in our lives as we are right now. Our short-term family goal is now to sell our land (hopefully soon) & use the money to buy something more conducive to farming, which is what we know & are most comfortable with.
If you have not already come through the doors, we hope you will pay Mountain Traders a visit soon. Many of our consignors are relying on sales to pay their own bills. I’m proud to see them working to put product in the store to pay their way in life. By today’s standards, this is commendable. We have seen some of them get choked up right there in the middle of store when they have looked at a check we handed them, & as it becomes apparent that the Lord has provided. Some are widows or widowers, some young mothers, some are moving & desperate to unload (as we were), and some are simple hard-working families we are honored to know.
Thank you everyone for making our first year in business fun & fascinating.
Todd & Heather