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Mountain Traders brings past into the present

by EMILY BONSANT
Hagadone News Network | October 28, 2021 1:00 AM

ELMIRA — The moment you walk in the doors, it feels as if you’ve taken a step back in time to the gold rush and early logging days of turn-of-the-century North Idaho. And that’s just the way that Mountain Traders owners Todd and Heather Koeppel want it.

The couple, who recently opened the store, want their business to be a cozy place for locals to gather and bring the community together as well as a venue for North Idaho goods and products to be sold.

“The goods are made by North Idahoans for North Idahoans,” said Heather Koeppel.

The Koeppels, who lived in the Sandpoint area 20 years ago when Todd was just out of college, moved back to the area the past year. When they lived in the community before, it was a struggle to make ends meet, so they understand the necessity and urgency of sales that their “consigners” face.

The past year has been hard on Idahoans who sell goods at craft shows and farmers markets due to COVID-19, Heather said, noting that many shows and markets were closed due to the pandemic. Mountain Traders aims to be a place for local artisans and homemade goods based businesses that need a venue to sell their products.

The couple knows the difficulties in buying and selling in remote areas of Idaho. They had difficulties selling a vehicle in the past when they lived on a mountain top. They said that they hope Mountain Traders will be an optimal location for people who live in unincorporated areas in Bonner and Boundary counties.

After leaving the Sandpoint area, work took the Koeppel family to Washington and then to the Midwest. The Koeppels said they tried their hand at farming and thought that the Midwest would be as it is always portrayed, as a farm friendly small-town, middle America. They were disappointed to see lifelong farmers holding on to the farm that their kids did not want. That is when they got the idea for Mountain Traders originated.

“It seemed to be a North Idaho idea,” Todd said.

When returning to the community, the Koeppel family planned to build a home, but with the price of materials and the current housing market they decided to focus on the concept of Mountain Traders.

They are still taking on consigners for the store, wanting it to be all about North Idaho goods for North Idahoans.

Heather has perfected decorating with the goods of the store. The taxidermy mounts for sale, leather goods, western antiques, handmade wood products and knitted goods seem to blend together cohesively as if they belong in the same homey cabin. She aims for fun retail for the area that appeals to both locals and travelers. The Koeppels are working with the Coeur d’Alene museum for pictures of the logging and gold mining themes. They will change out the pictures periodically, she added.

They aim for the experience to be immersive, to feel like a step back in time, the couple said. She said that some restaurants that are themed for a time period miss the mark when it comes to the ambience and so Heather has also carefully selected the music playing over the speakers to fit the old-timey feeling.

Heather said that she has been studying shoppers for years. She has incorporated North Idaho goods and consigned items into part of the decor in order to attract customers’ eyes. She said she did not want the cluttered look that comes with some antique stores, and instead arranged all the goods and displays in a way that makes everything belong. Heather said she didn’t just want to house goods, but wants to make it worth her consigners’ time to have their products in Mountain Traders.

There is also food at Mountain Traders. For now there are homemade smokies, sausages stuffed with cheese and other goodies, all made from Wood’s meat. Other treats include baked goods, locally roasted coffee and kombucha. The Koeppels said they plan to expand the menu to a breakfast beef stew and a chili once they have finished updating the kitchen.

“We want to be local in every way,” Heather said. “From the handmade goods to the food we sell.”

They said once they get the proper refrigeration units, Mountain Traders would like to sell local produce, eggs, dairy and other locally sourced food goods. They plan to be a one-stop shop for the community's needs and to provide local options to fill the shortage of products being shipped into the area.

The Koeppels said they don't want Mountain Traders to just be a venue for goods, but to be a community gathering place for farmers, homesteaders and anyone that is trying to attain self-sufficiency.

“We can never be fully self-sufficient, we still need community and to share knowledge,” she said.

“There are so many new homesteaders in the area that don’t have the knowledge or experience. We want to be the place where people can come and learn from each other on how to be self-sufficient, run a homestead, and network with others,” said the Koeppels.

Todd and Heather found the location when the Cook family, the longtime owners of the property, were remodeling. When they approached the Cook family to lease the property they said they were honored to have had the opportunity to plan and be part of the remodel. The Cook family will also be at the grand opening.

Mountain Traders is family owned and operated.

“We are a family of 11,” said the Koeppels. “All are helping in some way or fashion. Some are helping the business by having nap time.”

A grand opening celebration will be held Oct. 30, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and on Oct. 31, noon to 5 p.m. A surprise unveiling will take place at noon and there will be raffles, drawings, hot smokies, coffee, popcorn and hot cocoa during the event. Starting Nov. 1, Mountain Traders, located at 490870 U.S. 95 will be open Sundays, noon to 5 p.m.; Tuesday through Fridays 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturdays 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The store is closed Mondays.

Information: MountainTraders@mountaintraders.net or 208-557-3733

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