Sun Valley guides
How do we love the valley? Let us count the ways. The first big snowfall that covers Bald Mountain. The last of a million stars extinguished by the sun. The long, melodious summer days. But most of all, it’s the people.In the first of a new series in the Sun Valley Guide, Rebecca Meany sat down with a few of the characters who have helped shape this community: your guides to life in Sun Valley. Photos by Paulette Phlipot.
Rapid changes in the Wood River Valley can make residents feel they’re losing their sense of place. Consequently, locals savor the community gathering spots that remain, often meeting for coffee to discuss increasing land values and businesses that come and go. Amid the metamorphosis, one thing has remained a constant for nearly 20 years: the Ketchum coffee shop and bakery that Keith and Paula Perry run. That slice of surety last year was further solidified when the Perrys, along with a fellow tenant, bought the building that the coffee shop and a handful of other businesses are situated in. “I like being a center point of the community,” Paula said. “It’s a gathering place. Even second-home owners become regular customers.”
Their location in Ketchum’s downtown core helps bring foot traffic in, but also has the potential to be the business’s undoing. Many establishments recently have been closed, sold or otherwise put out of commission, often replaced with condominiums or banks. Longtime residents watch with increasing dismay as their favorite gathering places are shuttered. The high value of land has not only led to a shift in the business scene, but also to a southward migration of residents who left Ketchum in search of less expensive housing in Hailey and Bellevue.
The Perrys are part of that shift, having moved to Hailey a couple of years ago. “We lived here 18 years,” Keith said. “But we’re part of the exodus south. Everything changes. You just deal with it.” The high cost of living and the loss of affordable housing pose additional problems for business owners: scarcity of employees. For a time, the Perrys bought older units in West Ketchum to provide their own employee housing. But a stretch in the 1990s saw the business close a couple days a week because of low staffing levels. “I wonder if we would have survived without our employee housing,” Paula said. “It doesn’t matter if the business is there if you don’t have enough people to keep your doors open.” Perry’s employee housing has since gone away but “rock solid” Hispanics and high school students bolster the restaurant’s staff.
Despite the challenges, the bounty of activities and attractions in the Wood River Valley make the lifestyle worth fighting for. “You can get off work at 4 o’clock and go skiing at Quigley at 5,” Keith said. As a board member of the Blaine County Recreation District Keith was involved in creating the North Valley Trails system. “It was a community effort. That was a real satisfying, successful project.”
Keeping alive that sense of community, securing that sense of place, be it at work or on their off hours, is the Perrys’ avocation. “It’s fun to be involved,” Keith said. “You can get things accomplished in a small community.”
Elbie Bellon knows what he likes and has spent a lifetime doing it. There’s no nonsense about the man whose life’s loves are cars and his family. How could it be any other way? He wooed his childhood sweetheart with a 1955 Chevy he built in college. His son works in his automotive repair shop in Hailey. And every year the community looks forward to his “Bucking Car” that bounces its way down Main Street during the Fourth of July parade. How does he do it? “It’s a secret,” he said.
While he holds close to his chest the inner workings of the bucking Ford, he’s more forthright about his daily work. Each morning Bellon looks out the window and sees the fruits of his efforts. Bellon’s hands, or hands trained by him, tinkered with many of the thousands of vehicles that drive by his auto shop on Hailey’s Main Street. “I’ve been here so long, I know everybody who drives by,” he said.
A move to the Wood River Valley 30 years ago came on the heels of a short teaching career in Montana. Jack Basolo, who managed the Hailey Ford dealership in the 1970s, recruited Bellon. “I’ve always liked cars,” Bellon said. “I was real happy working at the Ford dealership because I was helping people with their automotive needs.” Happy days at the Ford dealership were supplemented by pleasant weekends enjoying the outdoors. “I love all seasons here,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I love it here. Snowmobiling, hunting, fishing—this area offers all of it.”
However, the inevitable growth that creeps into Western mountain resort communities can put a tweak in the landscape—and a burr in Bellon’s saddle. “My frustration is newcomers coming in from out of state and immediately trying to change things in this valley,” he said. “They come up here because they love it, so leave it alone.” Still, practicality reigns in Bellon’s philosophical outlook. “I know if it grows, I’ll be more successful,” he said. “Every time I hear an airplane take off I think, ‘They’ve just left $100 bills in this area.’ If I play my cards right, I may get some.”
But what Bellon gets, he often gives back. He served on the board of the Hailey Chamber of Commerce, worked with Boy Scouts of America and helped start Families in Action, a drug awareness group. “We started it to create an awareness in some of the naïve parents that these problems are in our community and in our schools.” Senior Night, a supervised dry evening of revelry, is an ongoing outcome of the group’s efforts. “There were too many times graduation nights ended up in car wrecks and kids dead. This is a way for them to be with their friends without drugs and alcohol. To be safe.”
Youth advocacy is bolstered by his wife, Karen, and daughter, Aby, who both work in education. His son, Brent, is a working reflection of a father’s pride. “He really likes doing what he’s doing. He’s learned everything from the ground up. He’s out there twisting wrenches. I’m very proud how he’s worked into the business.” Last year, Brent restored a Dukes of Hazzard-style 1969 Dodge Charger General Lee, which made an appearance outside the Hailey movie theater when the movie’s remake debuted.
When he locks up shop for the day, Bellon goes home to indulge his passion once more. “Last summer I bought (my wife) a 1961 Chevy Corvair that we’re restoring together,” he said. On second thought … “She keeps the beer cold while I do it.”
Few women would argue that being a stay-at-home mom isn’t a full-time job. But for Kim Garvin, a Hailey resident for 11 years, it turned into a gainful career. A few years ago, Garvin was running around keeping life organized and on track for her husband and two boys. She infused creativity into their home and a sense of place. With a little prodding from a retailer friend, she decided to turn that bucolic and welcoming atmosphere into something more. “I thought, if I ever do anything, I want to have my own little store.”
Thought turned to the tangible with the opening of Vintage Gypsy in Hailey. “I was a housewife. It all evolved from being a housewife. Entertaining, decorating. It was an easy transition.” Not everyone shared her optimism, however. “There are all the people telling you that you can’t do it. But I’m bull-headed. I’m German, Irish and a Taurus. Everything that could make you so strong minded, I am.”
A year before the store opened, she and a friend spent months traveling and shopping, snatching up retro house wares, antiques and unique gifts. An overstuffed Volkswagon Euro van trundled back into the valley, ready to unload its contents, turning an empty space into a vintage garden-theme shop. “I’ve always been a collector and the whole gardening thing is a passion.”
Always an advocate of shopping locally when possible, Garvin and another retailer last year started the South Valley Merchants’ Alliance to promote shopping in Hailey and Bellevue. With her husband, Scott, who also owns his business, she has spent many a happy weekend back home in Maryland perusing the antique stores and boutique shops that dot the East Coast. She felt if she could replicate a little of that the South Valley could become more of a shopping destination.
Her shop is a reflection of herself. “I really like being a housewife. The store is all centered back on having a home.” It is full of vintage goods, with a hearty helping of cheeky items. “We get sucked into sassy,” she said. The wares and furniture may have found their way into the valley from her trips around the country, but they found their way into the shop thanks to her family’s help. “Scott does so much. I couldn’t do this without his truck, muscles and gloves,” she said, partaking in a little sass herself.
The family built a house in Croy Canyon, west of Hailey, turning limitations of the remote location into opportunities. “We live off the grid,” she said. Solar power, a little bit of hydropower and a backup generator provide all the energy the family needs. Despite Garvin’s affinity for gardens and nature, she was not initially an off-the-grid enthusiast. But, even for one who likes her hair dryer, a $70,000 price tag to be connected to the grid was too much. And, once she learned her lifestyle didn’t really have to change by using alternative power sources, she quickly became a convert. “When I left the house this morning there was a load of laundry in the washer,” she said. “We have a TV, Nintendo. I turned down the heat with the thermostat. I can’t believe more people don’t use solar.”
Tending to the laundry or expanding her business, Garvin will continue to draw on what matters most to her, creating success at home and at work, and wherever her interests take her. “You always are the person you were,” she said. “I am that same person.”