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Mountain Stove and Spa

Tired of working as a corporate executive, Jim Fulling shucked that world from his back in the 70s and went into business for himself. He and his wife, Betsy, moved to a small town in northern California, opened a Napa Auto Parts store, raised kids and joined the Rotary. As the Rotary played Santa Claus to every child in town, giving each a stocking every Christmas, Jim allowed his trademark white hair and beard to grow full, cementing his likeness to Father Christmas. (He’s only recently cut the beard.)

It was a good life, but the pair wanted more. With kids raised, they began to search in the Pacific Northwest for the place they wanted to live, and a viable business they could buy. That search took them through Montana, Washington, Oregon and northern Idaho and in the fall of 1990 they arrived in Sandpoint as the proud new owners of a downtown store selling spas, after considering the purchase of a shingle mill and a video business. “I thought to myself, ‘we’re going to be selling hot tubs? Not a chance!’” Betsy explained. But that’s what they did.

Not long after they moved the store into the old Sears building on Michigan St., where they’re still located today, and they began “phase three” of their life.

And then Betsy was diagnosed with breast cancer, undergoing two surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy.

“She didn’t have any energy and she wanted to get it back,” Jim reminisced. An avid fisherman, Jim suggested she accompany him on a hike into the Selkirk Mountains. “I suggested just a short hike into the mountains to see how she felt,” he said. “So she went out and bought some hiking boots.”

At the trailhead, headed toward Harrison Lake, Jim suggested “we could just go up the trail a way, maybe 15 minutes or so, then come back to the truck.”

“When he told me that, I asked myself, ‘then why did I buy these expensive shoes?’,” Betsy explained. And phase four began. That was six years ago, and, 260 hikes later, Betsy can remember only four weekends in the years since when they didn’t go hiking - twice due to the flu, and twice because Betsy was out of town at funerals for her parents. Weather has never kept them out of the woods.

“We love that little lake,” Betsy wrote. The pair, almost five years to the day after their first hike, went back to Harrison and bushwacked over to Little Harrison Lake. “How to get there used to be a secret but now that is all changing… however, it is still only for the adventurous.” Back in her first hike report, she wrote of the adventure to Harrison, “The trail started out a bit steep and I started way out too fast. I need to acclimate better and start out slower... I believe that this was a gift from God, to me, who just needed a kick in the butt. The funny thing is that I didn’t think that I could do it... after cancer, I felt that I never got my strength back and was tired all the time. Something made me take on this challenge. It is amazing to me at how we all tend to underestimate ourselves. Yes, life is good!” She recorded a time of 3.5 to 4 hours to go 4.6 miles for an elevation gain of 1,432 feet. Hike number 261 in early July this year was 7 hours, ten minutes for and they went 12.5 miles - the pair are now acclimated.

An avid genealogist, Betsy volunteers at the Sandpoint LDS Family History Center, introducing newcomers to the intricacies of genealogy (see related story on page 48) and helping to index voluminous amounts of information from microfilm into data compatible with publication on the Internet. “Sometimes newcomers come in and ask, ‘do you have my family history here?’,” Betsy laughed. “It’s so much easier now because there’s so much information on the Internet, people don’t realize the kind of hard work (those of us who have been doing this research for a long time) have put into it.”

Betsy has traced her own family back to the 1600s in Germany, and has traced Jim’s family history...... to the 1600s in Germany. Maybe it was meant to be.

The pair both appreciate technology, and Jim early on made sure his business had a website. He also checks his email frequently (think almost every minute) so he can not only reply instantly to inquiries about stoves, spas and more, but can share an enormous amount of jokes and other material.

Today, the store, wildly successful for a Sandpoint business, carries over 100 floor models of stoves, furnaces and fireplaces, including wood, gas and pellet, plus three separate brands of spas suitable for any price range. Gun safes and accessories round out the offerings.

Jim has this to offer about developing a successful business in this area. First, sell something people want. “If you have private income and just want a hobby, then you can sell things like baseball cards,” he said. Without a private income, he says your choice of product is crucial. Then, he explains, “Figure you’re going to go at least two years with no money. People have no idea how hard it is to grow a business here. But really,” he added, “I only have three secrets for success. One, keep a big inventory. We have enough here that people don’t have to go to Spokane to get what they want. Two, maintain reasonable prices. And three, keep regular hours. When people are ready to buy, they need to know that you’re open.”

While he doesn’t mention it, Jim and Betsy practice something else, as well - supporting other local businesses as they go along. Jim and Betsy, through Mountain Stove and Spa, are the longest-term advertisers we’ve had in the River Journal. They have advertised in every issue, without fail, since some time back in the mid-90s. In turn, we at the River Journal have purchased three wood stoves from their business over the years - and encourage you to do the same. “You can tell people we’re predicting a big year for wood and pellet stoves and furnaces as people start evaluating the cost of energy,” Jim said. So stop in today, and get your order in ahead of the rush.

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Landon Otis

Tagged as:

Sandpoint, hiking, business, Jim Fulling, Betsy Fulling, breast cancer, Mountain Stove & Spa

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