By Joseph T. O’Connor ExploreBigSky.com Editor
BIG SKY – The Marketplace building in Town Center has filled nearly all of its vacant spaces. And it’s all happened in the past month.
Four of five empty storefronts are now occupied, thanks to a concerted effort by Big Sky Town Center, Creighton Block Gallery, Rocky Mountain Rustics Group and Bozeman Audi.
“It’s good to have some open space, but upstairs has been largely vacant for too long,” said Bill Simkins, Town Center developer. “[Filling these spaces] is a sign of confidence building in the Big Sky community.”
Town Center opened a sales office with a conference room in the building in early February, allowing the developer to occupy a branded office in a central location, since moving out of the former Simkins-Hallin showroom last September.
Also in the first week of February, RMR Group moved into the building and out of the upstairs office it previously held in a barn in Beaver Creek, to be closer to the bank and the post office and to have a visible storefront.
“We looked at all the spaces available but felt Marketplace, near the new Town Center office, was the only option at the end of the day,” said Chad Rothacher, owner and founder of RMR.
Rothacher is looking forward to expanding business at the new location, which already houses Gourmet Gals, The Cave Spirits and Gifts, Big Horn Boutique and Creighton Block, the art gallery that expanded in January to include an upstairs art showroom.
“I’m thrilled with the expansion of the gallery and to see Audi going in,” Rothacher said. “Having that type of clientele is great. Most of our clients are not driving Pintos.”
Bozeman Audi opened a showroom in the building in early February, as well, and owner Alan Cawthon sees a bright future in the new location. Two Audis and a Subaru Outback are currently parked in the showroom.
“The opportunities in Big Sky are incredible,” said Cawthon, who also owns Bozeman’s Montana Import Group and whose daughter, Caroline, will be running the Town Center showroom. “We all went through the [market] down cycle. It feels good to be on the upswing.”
In addition to showing cars, the Bozeman Audi Big Sky Showroom is carrying locally and U.S.-made clothing, furniture and other gifts. Cawthon’s partner Columbine Culberg formulated this idea to appeal to an “Audi and Big Sky lifestyle.”
The showroom walls are painted Audi grey and Montana Import Group tan, and are adorned with canvasses depicting wild horses and bison, lent by Colin Mathews of Creighton Block.
Mathews’ new gallery room displays high-end Western art, complete with a bronze statue of an eagle in the second floor window. The art dealer says he feels a sense of community in the building, and that he believes the now-occupied spaces should lead to increased sales.
“The greatest hindrance to main streets are empty storefronts,” said Mathews, who learned the concept when he was mayor of Virginia City, west of Ennis. “Filling these spaces will be positive for further development [in Big Sky].”
Simkins echoed the sentiment, pointing to Big Sky’s population surge and an uptick in economic security.
“In the last few months we’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about workspace housing,” Simkins said. “Population and consumer confidence are gaining momentum, like a snowball effect. People are seeing others making moves and are doing the same.”
The marketplace businesses look forward to holding an open house soon.