This week we’re featuring the town of Columbia Falls, Montana (pop. 4,710) and sharing some of the stories of rural revival happening here! Today’s feature is from Rachel Hopkins, owner of The Shops at Station 8, and Alyson Dorr, who is also featured on this week’s podcast.
Hello, my name is Rachel Hopkins, and I’m the owner of The Shops at Station 8 in Columbia Falls Montana. My dream of becoming a business owner started when I was ten and watched the movie “White Christmas.” Of course, in those days I was going to own a ski lodge in Vermont and spend my days writing books. Over the years (like most things) my vision changed.
I guess you could say I inherited the “junking” gene from my mom, as I spent many weekends as a kid going to garage sales looking for treasures. I started out having a space in a local shop with my mother when my kids were little. And then one day the historic train depot building came up for sale. I remember thinking what a great antique shop that would make, and wishing I could buy it. Well the sign eventually went down, and I watched and waited to see what it would be come. If you live in a small town you understand, the rumor mill is always working, and rumor had it that the new owner was turning it into an antique shop. I couldn’t wait to see inside!
My first visit was like magic I walked up to the owner and said “you did exactly what I wanted to do with this building, any chance you’re hiring?” The next week I had an interview where I told her that my goal was to own my own shop one day. She said, “I’ll teach you everything you need to know,” and that’s when I knew I was in the right place! I spent the next seven years learning everything I needed to know and had launched into my own business. I had maintained a space at the shop and was doing the vintage markets. My kids had grown and my husband and I were looking into moving to the east coast when I got the invitation to lunch with my mentor. She was ready to sell and wanted to know if I was interested in buying it.
Well the rest is history! I’ve spent the last two years curating the shop to my vision. My vendors and I carry a wonderful mix of new and old, home décor, gifts, and curiosities. Best of all I love what I do and being a part of my hometown!
- Rachel Hopkins
I have always been a creative. It’s part of the fabric of who I am – whether it is experimenting in the kitchen, painting a canvas, pulling together a fabulous event, or decorating and organizing a space, I’ve always been inclined to bring beauty and purpose to the things around me. I suppose it helps that I’m able to visualize an idea in my mind and imagine the details in order to bring that vision to life.
Of course, growing up on a farm in the mountains of Montana certainly offered plenty of inspiration, and I still lean towards spaces which embrace and celebrate the beauty of nature and pastoral living. This is why I tend towards the “farmhouse” style – it embraces not only my heritage as a farm kid, but the simplicity and hard-working practicality of real life living. A farmhouse feels welcoming and cozy. It is warm and inherently connected to the past – plus a little dirt and rust adds to the appeal. That’s my kind of living: nothing too precious or perfect. Instead, it invites us to pull up a chair at the table and sit for a spell; even with your muddy boots and messy life, you are welcome. It’s a style that seems to offer a bit of grace.
That need to create worked itself out often in my childhood playtime. When I was a kid, my mom cleared out the homestead cabin on our farm and painted it to look like something out of a Charles Wysocki puzzle before letting us kids use it as our playhouse. It had two broken, multi-pane windows and wood floors. In the open rafters a wood rocking chair was draped in a garland of spider web, and a twin headboard made a perfect hiding spot for the cats. It always had just enough dust in the air to feel like magic. Out there she stored gardening supplies and an old trunk which had belonged to her granddad. It’s contents lined the shelves of my pretend store – felt hats and ladies gloves, an old perfume bottle. Those things didn’t seem strange or out of place in my world; there was always a red geranium blooming in the five-gallon Red Wing crock in the house. A doily on the little table by the couch. The place made pretty by mom’s love of antiques and her thrifting. To me, the warm, worn edges of farmhouse antiques makes me think wistfully of home.
As a college student, I frequented the antique stores and thrift shops of my college town. I had a themed dorm room, for-crying-out loud, and my first teaching paycheck went to buy a Pottery Barn slip-covered couch - I know the responsible thing would have been to pay on my student loan. Later, back on the family farm, I enjoyed building a house with my husband and filling it with my own flea market treasures, but most of my time during the next 15 years was spent teaching high school English classes, coaching, and chasing toddlers. Although, my husband will tell you, in moments of exhaustion, I’d dream up some cute little shop my head. And when I became friends with Amy Giffin, I channeled that voyeuristic spirit and frequented her space at the Shops at Station 8. For years, I'd swing into the store on my way home from work – to peek at her sweet space and its cheerful vintage treasures. Visiting her home, too, was like walking into the pages of Country Living Magazine, plus she always had a listening ear, good coffee, and freshly baked cookies ready to go.
Everyone needs a friend like Amy. Her persistent encouragement helped me step out from dreamer to doer. It was she who suggested I take a space at Station 8 and then insisted my style and eye for detail would work. Even now, when I start to feel inadequate, she champions my efforts. Starting out, she took me to her favorite junking haunts, and we hit up estate sales and vintage markets together. She is the sweetest and most generous friend – until it comes to a killer find. We’ve come to the agreement: first see, first grab. And we often laugh about who has the best junk in their pile of treasures (it’s usually Amy). I’m so thankful for her and the community of women who are a part of my story. In this season of gratitude, I hope you might reflect on ways you’ve been blessed by the encouragement of others or how you might champion others’ dreams. As you gather, make room for the worn out, the muddy and imperfect – it’s where you’ll find the good stuff.
- Alyson Dorr
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Alyson lives on a small multi-generational family farm nestled in the beautiful mountains of the Flathead Valley. She finds joy in the simplicity and hard work of the farm and raising a her two daughters as farm kids. Guests who stay in her Red Barn vacation loft enjoy a taste of rural Montana life and epic mountain views. Scaling back from a career in education led her to open a home design and decor shop – Red Barn Designs – at Station 8 in Columbia Falls, where she loves to curate the farmhouse aesthetic. She also offers a variety of local farm products in the store including peppermint essential oil and raw honey. Visit her website www.montanaredbarn.com to follow her farm-life antics.