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

U.S. Senator Jim Risch, ranking member and former chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, recently selected seven thriving Idaho small businesses to be honored as Idaho Small Businesses of the Month for June. The announcement was made in coordination with the Support Local Gems initiative.

The companies 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 companies will be recognized in the U.S. Senate’s Congressional Record for their contributions to Idaho’s economy.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of Idaho,” Risch said in a press release. “These local gems embody 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 entertainment venue with axe throwing lanes, a pool table and cornhole in a 5,000-square-foot space – shared that the business opened its doors in March 2019 and remains entirely family-owned to this day. Business has had its ups and downs due to the pandemic, but is doing well and continues to attract new customers.

“Small family businesses are the heart and soul of what makes Idaho unique and special in a world of big box stores and corporate ownership that focuses on profit and growth, not relationships and experience,” Duncan said. “We do what we do because it’s the right thing to do. To know that people in our community have noticed that and are honoring us with this recognition is truly heartwarming and motivating.”

Nel's Bi-Low Market in Pocatello.
Nel’s Bi-Low Market in Pocatello.

Nel’s Bi-Low Market has been a fixture in Pocatello since the late 1930s and has remained at the same location. The grocery store employs 18 people and offers a variety of groceries, all-local meats and dairy, produce, a deli and catering services. Current owner Barry Dutton has maintained the family-like operation, which continues to attract repeat customers.

“(Small businesses) are probably the most important part of our overall economy and I would like to see people do more than just say they want to support small businesses, but actually do it on a regular basis,” he said.

For Susan Cornwall Haaheim, third-generation owner and operator of Parma Motor Vu, it’s an honor to draw crowds to the unique drive-in theater each week. The company, founded by her grandparents in 1953, now regularly employs up to seven people. She said there used to be about 4,000 drive-in theaters across the country and there are now fewer than 400.

“We are one of the few, if not the only one, still operated by the original family,” Haaheim said. “It’s a labor of love. Parma Motor Vu is a piece of American culture and draws people from all over the world to our beautiful state. We are part of Idaho’s history and keep the nostalgia alive. As long as there are movies showing and people coming, we will continue to do what we do.”

For these and other small businesses in the Gem State, building a loyal customer base is key to continuing to grow and meet revenue goals.

Bobbi-Jo Meuleman, President and CEO of the Boise Metro Chamber, said, “The Boise Metro Chamber is proud to support Local Gems! Small businesses are the backbone of our communities and their contributions are responsible for Idaho’s success. We commend Senator Risch for his efforts to promote these Gems.”

By Everly