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Sneak Into Noxon for a Sporting Good Time

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Sneakers Sports Bar opens in Noxon

Elevated booths; open flame broiler in the middle of the dining room where you get to pick the cut of meat you want cooked; double-sided fireplace with swivel lounge chairs; specialty appetizers; a full service salad bar; stained glass panels; a bar with 13 microbrews - four on tap - plus all the usual domestic beers; a generous selection of fine wines; more than a dozen televisions for sports of every kind; an arcade room; a pool room with tables, darts and foosball.

Sounds like the kind of place you would find in a large city, doesn't it? Well, in this case the place described above is taking shape in Noxon, Montana, a small (really small) town on the banks of the Clark Fork River about halfway between the closest large cities of Spokane and Missoula. And, according to some people who frequently travel that circuit, Sneakers could be one of the nicest places anywhere along that 300-mile stretch of highway once it's finished.

Sneakers, which has recently been called, tongue-in-cheek, "Tyvek Tavern," because, though the bar is now open, it is still in the process of being built and the log siding has not yet gone up. It is the brainchild of partners Rick Gould and Leslie Pringle. They met three years ago when a mutual friend, Linda Scott, introduced them on Noxon's main street in front of Toby's Tavern.

Rick grew up in Noxon, graduating from high school there in 1974. Following retirement from a career in the Army Quartermaster Corps, Rick returned to Sanders County about the time Leslie was moving to the county's west end from Columbia, California via Livingston, Montana. She came to Noxon with twin girls, Allison and Ashley, now 16. For a couple of years Rick worked in the county weed department, and then as Director of Sanders County Emergency Services. Leslie went to work in the Noxon school system as an aide and cheerleading coach but, about a year ago, they conceived the idea of Sneakers, a place they dreamed would help bring the community together in a social context.

"We thought of all the neat things that could be done in town, what would be good for the community," Rick said. "What could be a successful business, but still be something the community could connect with."

And so they came up with the idea of what most people in the area have characterized as a steak house and sports bar. The wisdom of such a bold venture in such a small town has been questioned, but Rick and Leslie intend to not only draw local people into their establishment, but also to appeal to visitors from near and far. Noxon's beautiful setting on the Clark Fork River between the Cabinet and Bitterroot mountain ranges will be one attraction they'll count on to bring people in. But they also expect the quality of food and service they plan to provide will help bring people back.

When Larkin's Café, an old, family-owned business that had been in downtown for years (it was once known as the Waunegan Bar) came up for sale following a foreclosure process on a prior, would-be buyer, Rick and Leslie made the decision to purchase the property.

The building was in need of a lot of work, but no one envisioned the extent this couple would go to in not just renovating the premises but totally rebuilding, remodeling and greatly enlarging the structure. What they have now, still under construction, is 3,570 square feet being carefully orchestrated to provide a wide variety of services to the community. And more importantly to them both, many in the community have been instrumental in seeing this dream become reality.

"I just can't say enough about Kevin Johnson," Rick exclaimed, "and the materials he's provided." Kevin owns Johnson Hardware in Noxon and, according to Rick, his bid for construction materials was so good "it came within $80.00 of Home Depot in Spokane."

"We wanted to do as much business locally as possible," Rick explained. "We felt that was essential." And they got their wish. Jim Hilt did the excavating, Dan Bauer did the concrete work, and the tongue-and-groove paneling came from Jerry Deal at JD Manufacturing in Thompson Falls. Kim Matthew and Redd Jewitt will do the rock-work for the central fireplace and the wainscoting across the front of the building. Doug Horner and Tom Hawkinson supervised the construction and had the help of two Noxon high school graduates, Andrew Weber and Mike Erwin, in what has been called a model of the school-to-work program in Noxon.

The school connection is especially important to Rick and Leslie because they want to see something done to help kids in the area. Leslie took a step  in that direction by becoming involved with the cheerleading program and in short order she led her team of girls to a Class C state championship last year, what many believe is the first state championship of any kind for Noxon High School. They performed so well in Great Falls they came within two points of an overall title for the entire state, regardless of class.

The addition of an arcade room and the poolroom will entice young people in to Sneakers, the couple feels, but beyond that they intend to build a close relationship with the school's athletic program. The foyer will feature a trophy case exhibiting the rewards of various teams in town. The first trophy to go on display once the entryway is complete will be Colin Larkin's 12 and under girls' softball team's first place trophy from the regional tournament in Polson earlier this month.  Rick and Leslie also want to hang photos, old and new, of school athletes throughout the establishment. In fact, they plan to film some of the home games, including football and basketball, and they replaying the games on their numerous TV's while serving up food and drink specials on game nights following the competition.

The name, "Sneakers," as you may have guessed, derived from the couple's interest in local sports, though they intend to also feature national sports on television such as Major League Baseball, the NBA, American sports events like Monday Night Football and big time boxing matches. In this respect, Sneakers will truly be a sports bar. But beyond that, Rick referred to the notion of anyone wanting to "sneak in after work for a refreshing cold drink" as having an influence on their name selection. Leslie noted that Rick came up with "Sneakers," but before settling on a name they listed dozens of other potential names such as Cleats, Laces, Timeout, The Huddle, The Dugout and Center Ring, but the one that seemed to best embrace all sports was Sneakers. Plus, they feel the name also implies the connotation of comfort and relaxation.

In other worlds, the place will be classy enough to anyone in the evening attire and high heels will be as welcome as someone else in shorts and sandals.

A driving force behind this project has been what Rick described as "the importance of serving the people of the community." He said, "It is incumbent upon a business to give back to the community. It is not about hat you can do for us but rather truly giving something back and being responsible to people's needs."

That was illustrated recently when Sandy Davis from Sanders County United for Disabilities introduced Rick to a disabled fellow confined to a wheelchair and who had crippled hands. When Rick asked what they could do to better accommodate people with needs like his, the man explained how difficult it can be to open a door with traditional doorknobs. So Rick replaced the knobs they had already installed with latches. 

"If you want to live up to the philosophy of meeting people's needs you have to be willing to think about things most of us take for granted," Rick said.

Another thing Rick and Leslie plan to do is create a scholarship from the money kids will put in to the video games in the arcade room. And they will host special activities of all kinds, including live music, dances, TV sports events, ladies' nights, happy hour and pool and darts tournaments.

"We're really excited about this,"  Rick said. "The support we've received for this place is overwhelming."

The bar is now open every day while construction continues on other parts of the establishment. Hours presently are from 2:00 pm until midnight Sunday through Thursday and 2:00 pm to 2:00 am on Friday and Saturday. Once the facility is completed they will expand the opening time to an earlier hour.  

For a few moments of relaxation on the banks of the Clark Fork River, the newest place to be will soon be a place called Sneakers in Noxon, Montana. Sneak on in sometime - Rick and Leslie will be thrilled to meet you.

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Dennis Nicholls Dennis Nicholls was the founder, publisher, janitor and paperboy of the River Journal from 1993 to 2001. He passed away in 2009.

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