- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) - The bankruptcy of national clothing retailer Coldwater Creek last spring posed a serious challenge to the northern Idaho city of Sandpoint, as more than 300 jobs vanished.

But the community is getting a second wind - thanks in part to former workers at the company’s headquarters who stuck around and started or joined new firms, The Spokesman-Review reported (https://is.gd/bmYWTB) Sunday.

They include Carlo Pati and Kara Berlin, who have contributed to the rapid growth of the outdoor adventure company Rush-On, and Matt Williams and Mike Peck, who founded a business that provides wood and metal shops, a laser cutter and a 3-D printer for artists and entrepreneurs who need them.

Many say they love their lifestyle in Sandpoint, a recreation mecca on Lake Pend Oreille, and didn’t want to leave when Coldwater Creek went belly up.

“There’s definitely something very special about Sandpoint that there’s this group of us that wanted to stay and make it work,” said Jennifer Pratt, a former Coldwater employee who converted a delivery truck into a mobile florist business.

Launched as a catalog-based marketer in 1984, Coldwater ballooned to nearly 6,000 employees in more than 300 stores, about 30 factory outlets and seven day spas. About 120 employees earned $75,000 and up, according to the Idaho Department of Labor.

But years of lagging sales and more than $360 million in debt led it to declare bankruptcy last April.

Sandpoint officials say the loss of Coldwater Creek - Bonner County’s largest private employer - still hurts. But they’re upbeat about a wave of hiring in aerospace, biomedical, software, food production and manufacturing.

“We’re seeing the opportunity to really write our next chapter,” said Jeremy Grimm, the city’s director of planning and community development. “And I think it’s ours to build on these industries that have really defined their place in the markets.”

Among the local economy’s strongest performers are Litehouse Foods, maker of dressings, dips and cheeses; Tamarack Aerospace Group, developer of a winglet that boosts the range of jet aircraft; Lead-Lok, a medical device manufacturer; Timbersled, maker of lightweight snowmobile and snow bike products; and Kochava, a leading mobile technology company that provides analytics and other data tools.

Kochava has a dozen new hires from Coldwater Creek who came aboard with experience in marketing, finance, account management and data science, said owner Charles Manning.

Devin Dufenhorst, a former professional ski jumper, turned to Coldwater Creek’s talent pool when he launched his online company, Rush-On, in October. The mobile app alerts users to outdoor adventure opportunities, and already features more than 700 merchants offering deals on hang gliding, ziplining, heli-skiing, hovercraft rides and more.

He scooped up Pati, who had helped handle Coldwater’s website updates and promotional emails. Pati in turn called on Berlin, who worked in marketing at Coldwater and now is Rush-On’s marketing manager.

“I was a pretty easy sell,” Berlin said. “It’s easy to market something that aligns with your own personal interests.”

The company is looking for larger office space and plans to bring on a few account managers and customer service specialists soon.

Coldwater Creek’s downtown Sandpoint store sits empty now, but the company name remains on the historic building along First Avenue. Tina Ward, formerly a senior merchant at Coldwater, used to fill stores like that one; now, she is enjoying retail on a much smaller scale.

She owns a kitchen supplies store called Weekends & Company.

“I was ready for this simpler way of life - a less corporate lifestyle,” Ward said. “If you can make it work and pursue your dreams here, it’s possible. The way the community supports each other, it’s just amazing.”

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Information from: The Spokesman-Review, https://www.spokesman.com

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