Creating Business in a Small Town
SALMON, IDAHO — Seven years ago, any out-of-towner might not have looked twice at the old Odd Fellows building in downtown Salmon, which is in central Idaho north of Challis. But volunteer Cindy Phelps and the Craig and Jessica McCallum family saw potential — a tan brick facade on Main Street where business and nostalgia blend.
“I absolutely love that old building … I think everyone does,” said Phelps, a semi-retired Lemhi County Humane Society Board Member.
More than seven years ago, the building held little more than creaking boards and potential. With a little love and a lot of community dedication, that building is now a thriving bakery, thrift shop and community gathering place. But it wasn’t an easy journey to get there.
Not long ago, Phelps and the rest of the board members of the Humane Society were looking for a new home for their thrift store, Rags & Wags. They set their sights on the Odd Fellows building.
It was built by local miners in 1904. The men were members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which is an internationally established group known for doing good deeds.
“They wanted [the building] to continue to serve the community, so that was part of the agreement,” Phelps said. “We just had no idea that it would end up helping so many people!”
There was one major problem though. While it was loved, the building was old and deteriorating.
“The place needed a lot of work, a new roof, electrical, and more,” Phelps said. “After people heard what was going on, they pitched in ‘seed funds’ and then grants from other sources started to come in. It’s like someone had to prime the pump to get things started.”
The effort was a big deal for the small Salmon community. The population of Salmon is just over 3,000.
“In a small town with a blue-collar economy, that sort of expense just about kills ya,” Phelps said.
Fortunately, the board members from the Humane Society were thinking outside of the box. They knew the local people had an incredible work ethic. And when given a chance they would rise to the occasion with hard work and dedication.
With plenty of sweat equity poured into the building, it started to shine again — a labor of love from a dedicated community.
But the story of the rebirth of the Odd Fellows building doesn’t end with Rags & Wags.
To provide the rest of the story, Phelps points to the McCallums.
The pair have a passion for both great baking and for their small Salmon hometown.
“My parents were hunting and rafting outfitters in the Chamberlain Basin in the heart of the Frank Church Wilderness area of Central Idaho when I was growing up,” Craig said. “I got my start cooking there.”
Craig worked as a hunting, fishing and rafting guide while he earned his degrees in journalism and political science at the University of Montana in Missoula. He and wife Jessica loved Missoula’s bakeries and the community. It wasn’t long before they began to wonder how they could bring the essence of those bakeries back home to Salmon.
After graduating, Craig spent a year working as a river guide, as well as for three different stone masons. In his spare time he drove the Zamboni at the hockey rink and sold his homemade sourdough bread at local events and farmers markets. All the while, he and Jessica kept an eye out for the perfect place to set up shop.
But rent was high and funds were low, so the McCallums loaded up their 1975 VW bus with two kids and a Labradoodle and headed for the mecca of American Sourdough and wood fire ovens: Northern California.
Meanwhile, back in Salmon, Phelps and the Lemhi County Humane Society had just finished a deal to buy the Odd Fellows building. They knew the location had promise. Phelps’ friend, Carol Fulton, just happened to know a certain young baker who had a lot of promise, too.
Fulton called Craig in California and said that they could lure him back to town with low rent and the perfect location, right on Main Street, to start his own business.
Craig had now completed an apprenticeship at two bakeries. It wasn’t long before he and Jessica headed back to make their dreams a reality. Over the next year, they remodeled their side of the building and hand-built the Allan Scott-style wood stove Craig had always wanted.
Odd Fellows Bakery opened its doors in 2009 and has quickly become a favorite hangout of locals and visitors alike. Everything was finally falling into place.
Today, Craig and Jessica have one partner and about eight employees. It’s obvious they’ve done a lot of work. The building is bright and bustling, and the smell of fresh baking fills the street every morning. The bakery is paying regular rent and the constant flow of customers in and out the front door says something amazing is happening here.
Most out-of-towners find it hard to decide between the Raspberry Danish and the Apple Galettes. Craig will end up just selling them both along with a loaf of classic sourdough (to take home for later).
It is no surprise when Craig says with a big smile, “business is doing great!”
In addition to a thrift store, local meeting rooms, and the bakery, the building has also become a playhouse for the high school drama team.
The team had lost its space due to budget cuts at the school district. Once again, the folks from the Lemhi County Humane Society kept their promise and gave someone a chance and a place to do the work and make it happen.
By Scott W. Elliott – Published in the Idaho State Journal, Dec 20, 2016