business feature

Old Traditions – new ambitions

Snowline Acres, formerly Snowline Tree Company, forges new seasonal rhythms under new ownership.

 Clare Menzel

E very autumn for half a century, Clinton DeLong has watched morning sunbeams stream through rows upon rows of frost-encrusted wild Christmas trees. In 1968, he landed a job as the foreman of Snow Line Tree Company, a tree and wreath retail and wholesale business founded in south Kalispell in 1955. Over 50 years, time progressed in a cyclical fashion, with reliable rhythms marking seasonal shifts. In late October, he’d begin unloading semi-trucks of harvested wild trees. Winter months brought quietude. When spring emerged, cows and horses would begin grazing the pastures. And then, after the first snows fell on the Swan Mountains, the Christmas fervor would begin again.

This November, the cold morning sun shone down on a business emerging from a major transition. In early summer 2015, Kristin and Tom Davis bought the Snow Line property, rebranding it as Snowline Acres, a new name to honor the existing business’s roots while opening it up to more opportunity.

Originally hailing from Wisconsin, the couple owns four franchise fast food restaurants in the Salt Lake City area, but as Kristin says, “we always wanted to end up here [in Northwest Montana].” Clinton stayed on as property caretaker, helping the Davises maintain the booming Christmas operations. “Change is fine,” he says. And, he adds, the Davises have “a lot of good ideas. It’s almost totally different, a different vision.”

They’re growing the property into a multi-purpose space with the capacity to tap into various year-round and seasonal local economies, like artisan goods retail, community activities, and events hosting. Their first major project, “phase one,” was planting an apple and cherry orchard in the backyard with 1,000 trees. In the future, they hope to host outdoor concerts and Monday-night mile runs for kids. There’ll be an ice skating rink in the winter. And someday, they plan to build trails for visitors to wander alongside Ashley Creek.

“We had a vision that there’s a lot you can do with this property,” Kristin says. “The thing we’re trying to create here at Snowline Acres is family traditions. Whether that’s going out and getting your Christmas tree, or picking apples, or getting married in the building and then bringing your kids back [for activities]. It’s about families gathering traditions.”

 “We’re dreamers and entrepreneurs at heart,” Tom explains. “For some reason, that building, we just saw something there.”

They needed to expand their infrastructure. The wreath-making studio was cramped, and Kristin was keen to grow the retail shop to include artisan goods and a rotation of festive items for every season. While researching new building construction, fate intervened. They noticed a “for sale” sign on the historic Kalispell Lumber Company building downtown on West Idaho Street. In the mid-1920s, Harry G. Miller, an aspiring Flathead Valley timber tycoon, constructed the building, which was his second mill and lumber yard. In 1961, after decades of prosperity, Harry’s son Gilbert shuttered the business amid a dramatic dip in lumber prices nationwide. Brad Wright purchased the property in 1979, and for years operated a building materials store there.

On a lark, Tom called Brad to inquire about the building, not yet knowing exactly how it would fit into his and Kristin’s dream. It was far too big for a retail shop alone. After researching existing events venues in the region, the Davises determined there was potential for growth in that direction too, and took the leap.

“We’re dreamers and entrepreneurs at heart,” Tom explains. “For some reason, that building, we just saw something there.”

In June 2017, Heritage Timber, a Missoula-based deconstruction company, began the three-month process of dismantling the 100-year-old building. It took some 25 semi-truck loads to deliver the materials – all beautiful old-growth, full-dimension wood – to south Kalispell.

“The Kalispell lumber building was certainly a landmark downtown,” Tom says. “And I think when it came down, people were sad because they thought it was going to be repurposed into someone’s kitchen… and when people learned we moved it down here, re-erected it, gave it new life, I think that made a lot of people excited.”

Their rebuild, finally completed this summer, is the exact same width, half the length, and six feet shorter than the original. The wide-open space inside showcases the original trusses, and huge windows dominate the east-facing wall. The retail shop opened in November, and the events space is currently available to rent.

The only missing element of the iconic lumber building is the roof, branded with the weathered, block-lettered “Kalispell Lumber.” Though Davises had actually sized the events venue to fit the “Kalispell” half, their roofer advised that the century-old tin would leak endlessly. Instead, they’ll use it to roof a pavilion out in the backyard, where future generations can gather to watch golden summer evenings light up the lower valley or early autumn snow settling onto the mountains.

Find your perfect Christmas tree by browsing Snowline’s indoor forest at 3315 Hwy 93 South in Kalispell, open daily during the holiday season. Learn more about their year-round activities and event venue at snowlineacres.com.

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Photos: Mandy Mohler Field Guide Designs

 

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