Friday, December 25, 2009

Hailey sparkles on Christmas Eve

The business of giving brings a town to life

Express Staff Writer

Billy Olson opened Powerhouse bike shop and pub on Main Street a week before Christmas, fulfilling his twin passionsóbiking and beer. Photo by David N. Seelig

Christmas Eve dawned clear and bright on a bluebird day in Hailey. Fog-bound Friedman Memorial Airport finally opened after a few days of hit-and-miss weather, landing weary travelers in a town bustling with expectation.

Hailey has been hit hard by the recession, but merchants were upbeat and many business leaders were making dreams come true in a town that truly deserves a "White Christmas."

The Powerhouse pub and bike shop on Main Street, Hailey's newest restaurant, has been open only a week. Owner Billy Olson, a former bike racer and Durance Cycleworks mechanic, made his longtime dream come true when he opened Powerhouse.

"People used to always bring six-packs into the bike shop while we worked on bikes anyway, and we all worked nights at restaurants," he said.

Olson brought wrenching and dining together in a unique combination at Powerhouse. He said business was "raging" since he opened, and that he especially likes all the new people he has met in his new venture.

Down the street a few blocks, 24-year-old My Mai at Saigon VN Nails was finishing one of the last "mani-pedi" treatments of the season. For the past two weeks, she has been sprucing up ladies, including Maria Djasran, for holiday parties.

"Red for the holidays," said Djasran, displaying new polish just in time for Santa.

Across Main Street at Notes Music, Bob Hall said business was down 40 percent from last year. He moved into the American Legion-owned building about a month ago. He now spends one-third as much on rent for twice the space.

"Business has picked up in the last few weeks from holiday buying," said Hall, but he is still wary of the economy. Nevertheless, he's spent about $1,000 out-of-pocket in recent months to keep local kids in his company's music lessons.

"These are kids with a lot of talent, whose parents have fallen on hard times," he said.

Around the corner on Bullion Street, The Toy Store was selling a lot of Legos toys and Thomas the Train items this year. Two-year-old Henry Page had a go at the train set on display at eye level and found it worthwhile.

Farther down Bullion, the Episcopal Church Thrift Store was packed with last-minute shoppers.

Marilyn Shilue said the staff at this tiny building (which was once a library) provides clothing for families in need, and generates revenue for the historic church two blocks to the east.

"We wouldn't have our priest if it weren't for this store," she said.

Julie Warner emerged from the thrift store with an enlarged print of a postage stamp from the 1932 World's Fair in Paris, one of those one-of-a-kind items that go for a song at places like the Episcopal Church Thrift Store.

"The best thing about working here is that I don't have to make a profit," Shilue said.

About a block away on First Avenue at the Meriwether Building, the Cowboy Cocina Southwestern restaurant was serving pulled-pork sandwiches and cheddar fries beneath the towering Hailey holiday tree, lit up by Mayor Rick Davis two weeks ago, with Santa and Meriwether Building owner Steve Holzman in attendance.

"He's a great landlord, and a really nice man," said Chris Lemon, co-owner of the Cowboy Cocina.

Lemon is optimistic now that the building has taken on new tenants, including a bank, a spa, and a construction company.

Across the avenue at Tater Tots children's store, owner JaNessa Gilbert was less sanguine.

"It's tough," she said. "A lot of people have lost their source of income, but many are still trying to shop locally, which is great."

Tammy Eaton, owner of the Bead Shop on Bullion Street, seemed overrun with customers assembling handmade jewelry from an inventory of more than 10,000 beads, pendants and charms.

"The hands-on field of merchandise has been great in this economy," said Eaton, who sits on the Bellevue City Council. "People like making things with their own hands."

Eaton sold out much of her stock before Christmas and has recently expanded to Twin Falls with a new Bead Shop.

One of the most upscale of Hailey's apparel stores, North and Co., was also busy. Owner Jennifer Hazard-Davis has been selling clothes at her historic Main Street and Bullion Street location since 1987.

"They say you have to shop locally, but you also have to give people a reason," said Hazard.

She reworked her entire merchandise base for lower price points this year, due to the recession.

"People are trying hard to hold to their budgets. The shopping rush came late this year," she said.

North and Co.'s aperitif table, complete with Irish coffee and Maker's Mark whiskey, was a fine place to stop and consider the true meaning of Christmas.

"It helps people stay around a little longer than they otherwise might," Hazard said.

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