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BIGFORK - Recession? What recession?

Bigfork's Electric Avenue has been experiencing a mini-boom of new business startups, as entrepreneurs join the eclectic village of artisans and shopkeepers.

"We've had such steady tenants downtown," said Bruce Solberg, who heads the local Chamber of Commerce, "but we've had more new businesses downtown than in quite a while."

According to Jasmine Linabary of the Bigfork Eagle, the newcomers are joining locals who have kept storefronts there for years.

"Downtown real estate is really prime," Solberg said. "When it's available, it doesn't last very long."

Throughout the past year, galleries, cafes, salons and sushi restaurants have joined the ranks, with several more shops set to open this spring.

"Everything is full and thriving," Solberg said.

Only one casualty has been noted - a kitchen and bar that closed in early March. But already a new grille is taking its place.

Acknowledging the risks, Melissa Bonnet - owner of the newly opened Montana Bear Food - said that "in hard economic times, people can strive and be creative. I'm definitely excited about the challenge."

Some of the new owners said the flagging economy actually helped, by bringing real estate and remodeling construction costs down.


Fans, family gather for Montanan's Iditarod

DEER LODGE - Celeste Davis fans watched the end of her dog-drawn dash across the Alaska wilderness on a large screen overhanging the bowling lanes in her hometown.

The Silver State Post reports that Davis' parents, Bill and Liz Smith, and a group of friends gathered in Ken-Mar Lanes last Saturday night to watch via webcam as Davis completed her first Iditarod 2010 Sled Dog Race.

"The crash of pins and noisy cheers for the NCAA basketball game on a second television added to the mood," the Silver State's PJ Wright wrote.

Davis received the Red Lantern Award as the last musher to cross the finish line in Nome. Her time of 13 days, 5 hours and 6 minutes from the start in Willow, Alaska, on March 6 set a record for Red Lantern Award mushers.

Husband Todd and son Beau were there to welcome her in Nome. According to Wright, Davis is the first Montana-born woman musher to participate in the race.

"I just got caught up in it," said Gayle Mizner, a family friend who kept track of Davis' progress on a laptop computer at home. "Once I started watching it, I couldn't stop. I so admire Celeste's hard work, determination and dedication. I had to see her finish."


Demo derby in Libby may have to be junked

LIBBY - Libby's demolition derby may be on a crash-course with the junkyard.

According to Canda Harbaugh of the Western News, the Kootenai Kiwanis Club is considering scrapping the traditional fundraising event, due to flagging participation and profits.

"We work really hard at it," club treasurer Irene Loveless said. "We can't raise prices because of the economy, and we can't reduce prices (for cash prizes) because we won't be able to get drivers."

In addition, the event is hampered by high overhead costs, including insurance.

"We absolutely can't make any money on it," Loveless said.

The event - which once drew as many as 40 competitors - dwindled to just 16 last year, "and this year will be less," Loveless said.

The number of spectators also has crashed.

The demolition derby has proved to be the largest fundraiser for the group, with proceeds going toward community projects that include Koats for Kids, newborn hospital packs and college scholarships.

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No final decision was made about the event, however, because not enough Kiwanis members showed up for the meeting to reach a quorum.


Retired postmaster kept people connected

DRUMMOND- A man walked into the Helmville Post Office one day in the mid-1990s and asked the postmaster for some shirts.

At first Billie Struna was baffled, she told Michael Stafford of the Philipsburg Mail recently, upon the occasion of her retirement after 23 years with the U.S. Postal Service.

Then Struna realized that her daily commute from Drummond and back was more than a drive to and from work. She was a link across the mountain for some.

"He said he needed some shirts from Grannies, so I called them and they said yes, they'd have them ready so I picked them up and he came in and picked them up," Struna told Stafford. "The next day he was back in with them and said they didn't fit."

Struna, who retired on Jan. 29, started her post office career helping out former Drummond postmaster Frank Bridgewater, filling in at Drummond, Hall and Philipsburg. For a year and a half, she commuted to the Missoula Post Office, where she pulled night shifts and often worked 60 hours a week.

Helmville was a bit closer to home, and she worked there for 14 years before finishing up at her hometown post office in Drummond the last year and a half.

"It was one of my goals to be postmaster here in Drummond," Struna said. "I loved working here and seeing all my old friends again as customers."

Computers, scanners and other modern machines changed her work drastically over the years, Struna said. Now she's going to spend time with her grandchildren, help take care of the ranch and maybe do some traveling.

Weeklies Reader is compiled by reporters Michael Jamison, Vince Devlin and Kim Briggeman.


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