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Passing the Torch
New Owners Bring Life to Local Businesses
BY KATHLEEN KRISTENSON
Sales of small businesses across the nation rose by 50% last year. It’s a trend that not only signals growth in the U.S. economy, but one that can also be found right here in the Wood River Valley.
Rob Santa was an owner of Sturtevants for 30 years. He began as an employee, then became partner, sole owner and, in 2013, sold the business and retired. His philosophy has always been that “at the end of a cycle of ownership, it’s best if employees rise from within to take over.” When the time came, Santa sold to longtime employee, Olin Glenne, who then turned and sold Sturtos-Hailey to another longtime employee, Jeff Davis, thus separating the Hailey and Ketchum markets, and creating two new small business owners. Rob’s children had been offered a chance to own Sturtos, but they chose other paths. For the Witmer family, it’s been a different story.
Duffy Witmer was a partner at the Pioneer Saloon for nine years before he and his wife, Sheila, became the sole owners in 1986. They then purchased The Kneadery in 2002 with the full intention of eventually handing both businesses off to their three children, who work at the restaurants and have been in training for the roles of small business ownership their whole lives. Since longtime employees have years of experience and inside knowledge that usually proves to be invaluable when taking over the reins, the future looks promising for both the “Pio” and The Kneadery.
Stepping into a stable business with a successful track record is also very appealing. Pete Prekeges bought in to Grumpy’s in 1998, eventually buying out his partner in 2010. “I bought the business because I liked their legacy and business plan, so what I try to do is not screw up what they have going, and improve where I can their efficiency and service,” Pete said. He also had his eye on the Silver Dollar in Bellevue as a chance to buy property with a good business on it that could pay the mortgage. Every time he saw the owner, Pete would ask to be considered when she was ready to sell. Eventually she took him up on his offer and the rest is history. While many established businesses can benefit from the ideas of new owners, others just plain won’t survive unless someone else steps in and breathes some new life into them.
Fly Sun Valley was slow to take off. Chuck Smith became a partner of the only fully insured and permitted paragliding operation in Sun Valley in 2000 and soon became sole owner when his partner, who founded the company in 1999, decided to focus his attention elsewhere. Chuck applied the lessons he’d learned at Aspen Paragliding to the local small business and Fly Sun Valley has literally soared to new heights ever since.
In 2011, Sun Valley Mustard’s owner threatened to close its doors if it was not sold. Joshua Wells had been a fan of the product for years and found this unacceptable. He made the purchase despite lacking expertise in the industry. Thanks to Joshua’s passion for food and determination to learn, Sun Valley Mustard is now celebrating 30 years and going strong.
New owners are the reason all these local small businesses are healthy and thriving. Changing ownership is a critical part of the legacy of many small businesses. A successor may be groomed for years, or may simply knock on the door at the right time. Regardless of the reason for passing the reins, new owners often bring new ideas and new life to healthy, or even struggling, businesses—and those of us who love the Wood River Valley are happy they do.
Clockwise photos: courtesy Sturtos Hailey / courtesy the Witmer Family / Travis Bartlett / courtesy Sun Valley Mustard / Travis Bartlett / courtesy Fly Sun Valley