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Support Local Gems initiative highlights Idaho’s thriving small business economy

By Brooke Strickland

U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, senior member and former chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship recently selected seven thriving small businesses around Idaho to be recognized as Idaho Small Businesses of the Month for the month of June. The announcement came in coordination with the Support Local Gems initiative.

The businesses include Axe Force One, Backwoods Brew, The Eddy, Manwaring Cheese, Hands On, Nel’s Bi-Lo Market and Parma Motor Vu. Each of the selected businesses will be recognized for their contribution to Idaho’s economy in the Congressional Record of the U.S. Senate.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of Idaho,” Risch said in a press release. “These local gems exemplify Idaho’s entrepreneurial spirit, and I look forward to their continued growth and success.”

Doug Duncan, owner of Axe Force One ― a Coeur d’Alene-based entertainment venue with axe throwing lanes, a pool table and cornhole inside a 5,000-square-foot space, shared that the company opened its doors in March 2019 and to date, is completely family-run. The business has faced ups and downs due to the pandemic but is doing well and continues to draw in new customers.

“Small family-run businesses are the heart and soul of what makes Idaho unique and special in a world of big box stores and corporate ownership, where the focus is on profit and growth over relationships and experience,” Duncan said. “We do what we do because it’s the right thing to do, so to find out people have noticed that in our community and blessed us with this recognition is truly heartwarming and motivating.”

Nel’s Bi-Low Market in Pocatello.

Nel’s Bi-Low Market has been a mainstay in Pocatello, in the same location since the late 1930s. The hometown grocery store employs 18 people and features various groceries, all domestic meat, as well as dairy, produce, a deli and catering services. Current owner Barry Dutton has maintained the family-like operations that continues to bring in repeat business.

“[Small business] is probably the most vital part of our economy overall and it would be my hope that people would do more than just say they like to support small business but actually do it on a regular basis,” he said.

For Susan Cornwall Haaheim, third-generation owner and operator of Parma Motor Vu, bringing in crowds to the unique drive-in movie theater every week is an honor. The business, which was founded by her grandparents in 1953, now employs up to seven people on a regular basis. She said that there used to be about 4,000 drive-in theaters across the country and now there are less than 400.

“We are one of the only, if not the only one that is still operated by the original family,” Haaheim said. “It’s a labor of love. Parma Motor Vu is a piece of Americana and draws people from all over the world to our fine state. We are part of Idaho’s history, keeping the nostalgia alive. As long as there are movies to play and folks to attend, we will continue to do what we do.”

For these businesses and other small businesses around the Gem State, creating a loyal base of customers is key to maintaining growth and reaching revenue goals.

Bobbi-Jo Meuleman, president and CEO of the Boise Metro Chamber said, “The Boise Metro Chamber is honored to support Local Gems! Small businesses are the backbone of our communities, and their contributions can be attributed to Idaho’s success. We commend Sen. Risch for his efforts in promoting these Gems.”

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