On a bleak, winter drive down Highway 28 from Elmo to Plains, there is suddenly a small splash of color ahead in the gray. It is something you would take for granted in most places. But in Lonepine, a community about six miles north of Hot Springs that lost its zip code years ago, a sign that simply says “Open” is a welcome sight.
Lonepine General Store is a new business started by old friends.
Long-time Lonepine and Nirada residents Rae Herman, Traci Salmi and Lindsey Herron (Traci’s daughter) already knew they worked well as a team. They had worked together on Sanders County’s Cowgirl’s Kickin’ Cancer fundraiser event for several years, and had a crafting business — Mimzie’s Creations — run out of their homes. When the entire Lonepine store property came for sale, including functional gas tanks, they knew “it was an opportunity that wasn’t going to come twice,” says Rae.
The camaraderie is palpable as the three warmly welcome visitors and customers, and the conversation flows between them. The community appears glad to have them. “We’ve had great community support,” they say. They proudly show the “shake-a-day” dice a coffee-drinking regular brought in. “These are the original dice from when Bud Bras owned this,” he had told them. (Bras sold it around 1998.)
“We know we’ll get the tourists to stop, too. Even when we were just stopping to look in the windows, people would stop with boats and campers and say, ‘Oh, there’s activity there!’ and be excited,” they say.
“This is a sign!” one of their previously skeptical husbands told them. “This can work.” He wasn’t wrong, as shown by the many skiers on their way north to Blacktail and Big Mountain, and on their way south to Lookout Pass and Schweitzer, that have stopped in since they opened in November. “We’re in a good spot between towns in the Flathead and along the Clark Fork,” the women say.
THE MAIN building required extensive cleanup and remodeling, as its last stint was as a second-hand store. They have done most of the work themselves. “We are ranch women,” they say. “We know how to just do what is needed and figure it out.” Figure it out, they have indeed. The place is nicely decorated, bright, clean and cheery, with a family feel.
Lindsey tells of customers laughing when they find her 3-year-old son Kam’s toys stashed on the snack food shelves or encouraging his bicycle riding antics. “People are always telling him, ‘Go faster!’ or ‘Where are the jumps?’”
Kam may be the best example of one of the trio’s goals — to offer a place for young people to learn work and customer service skills. He greets customers and says, “How can I help you, sir?” The store is offering internships to local students to come learn every aspect of the business. “We want them to be able to go somewhere after they graduate and get a job or run their own businesses,” the ladies say.
Besides fuel and snacks, the friends have brought Mimzie’s Creations into the store, selling hand-painted fun signs, turned wood items, Lindsey’s T-shirt designs and other crafts. They are planning to add a café. With recommendations from friends and family, they are looking to offer local beef and bison burgers among their fare.
So far, everyone seems to look at the historic building on the site and think “saloon,” they say, but they have their own ideas for it that will develop as time permits. There’s room for potential RV sites, too.
“It’s a new version of the old mom-and-pop store. We want to bring a little bit of the history and community feeling back to Lonepine,” they say.