Sandpoint Magazine Summer 2005 Sandpoint Magazine Summer 2005
Sandpoint Magazine

Sandpoint Magazine Summer 2005

Subscribe to Sandpoint Magazine

Illustration by Zach Hagadone

Sandpoint exploded onto the national scene in a series of stories in 2004 that extolled the area’s beauty, friendliness and lifestyle, calling Sandpoint the “West’s best small town” (Sunset magazine), the “cool Northwest’s hot property” (Outside magazine), and a “Norman Rockwell-meets-Ansel Adams classic” (USA Today). National Geographic Adventure magazine voted Sandpoint one of the 10 best adventure towns in the nation and reported this is the place to be for people who want to telecommute to work. And Cabin Life, Cabin Living called Sandpoint “the quintessential Western outdoor lover’s town.”
Those reveling in the attention wonder who should get the credit. Those who wish it would all just go away want to know who gets the blame. A prime candidate for both would be Schweitzer Mountain’s parent company, Harbor Resorts, who have actively promoted the ski resort since they purchased it in 1998.
Smart Money magazine reported on Schweitzer two years ago, “If you missed buying in Aspen or Steamboat Springs, where prices have gotten unspeakable over the past 15 years, consider this ski area...” They were writing about Schweitzer.
The Spokane Journal of Business credited that article with the growth we’ve seen since. “Demand for recreational property has been strengthening (in this area) since Smart Money magazine reported that Sandpoint was one of the best places in the U.S. to buy a second home.”
Stephen Fina, a Seattle-based vice president with Harbor, told the Spokane Journal of Business their marketing is “paying off” in terms of sales on the mountain. It also paid off with a December, 2003 feature on Schweitzer in Sunset. Now it’s been rumored that Sports Illustrated has been up on the mountain. Can a swimsuit issue on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille be far behind?
Attention moved beyond Schweitzer’s borders in January 2004, when Sunset magazine featured Sandpoint as the “West’s best small town,” citing the Cedar Street Bridge, the Panida Theater and the art-friendly downtown as assets. “We sent out a query to our readers,” explained Sunset Senior Writer Lora Finnegan about how they chose Sandpoint for the honor. “We got a lot of replies nominating Sandpoint. People were very passionate about (the place).” As they looked further into the nominees, Finnegan said this area stood out for being such a small town yet having so many amenities. “I was surprised by the level of sophistication, by the beauty,” she said. “It exceeded my expectations.”
Sue Haynes, a former city council member, escorted Finnegan around the town. “It was fun looking at the town through her eyes, and she seemed genuinely impressed with (our) natural beauty,” Haynes said. She told Sunset that people are “lucky” to live in Sandpoint.
Some say the publicity is evidence the “secret” is out, but the positive attributes of this area haven’t really been much of a secret at all. Coldwater Creek, an investor favorite nationwide, started right here, on a kitchen table in town, and maintains its flagship store on the Cedar Street Bridge. Nationally known Litehouse Dressings is just across town. Movie actors and politicians have moved quietly into the area for years, purchasing out-of-the-way properties where they can recoup from the pressures of a more public life elsewhere. They even send their children to school here: Rocky Mountain Academy, just to the north, has been home to the children of Roseanne Barr and Montel Williams; Ted Danson’s daughter attended Noxon High School, just across the border to the east in Montana.
“It’s not that big of a secret,” said Nick Heil, a senior editor for Outside. “Sandpoint made the list pretty fast.” Heil, whose office is based in Santa Fe, lived in Spokane for years, and he points out that Sandpoint “has plenty to offer” in areas like culture, recreation and affordability. “It was kind of a no-brainer, to be honest.”
Heil credits part of Sandpoint’s appeal to an economy where people, “don’t need to live in a brick and mortar workplace,” anymore, which coincides with’s opinion that Sandpoint is a great place for telecommuters. Forbes’ writer lists as positive telecommuting attributes “reliable, high-band Internet connections, nice weather, infinite hiking trails and a small airport close by.” points out that we have “mountains, lush valleys and crystal-clear Lake Pend Oreille.”
Outside’s story caught the attention of Laura Bly, travel reporter for USA Today, and news about Sandpoint reached 6.5 million people when she published her story Aug. 20, 2004. “I have to say that my few days in Sandpoint were enough to stoke some real estate daydreams of my own,” she said. Being in Sandpoint, “brought back a flood of memories,” from her own childhood spent in Madison, Wis., a place that’s no stranger to positive publicity itself.
Karen Bowers, executive director of the Panida Theater, was one of the locals Bly spoke with. For her part, Bowers is not sure all this publicity is such a good thing. “I want to protect my little corner of the world,” she told Bly. “But it’s inevitable that we’ll become another small town that’s turned into a place for the rich … ”
Dann Hall, whose father, Ross, was responsible for much of the current “Norman Rockwell/Ansel Adams” image of Sandpoint due to his breathtaking photography of the area throughout the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, shares Bowers’ concerns. “The amenities (everyone appreciates) about this town were brought forth through the hard work of people who struggled to make it here,” he said. He doesn’t want to see growth occur in a way that “people who made it such an interesting place can’t afford to live here anymore. I guess I’m a modern day Luddite (one who is opposed to change),” he added. “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Bad roads bring good people; good roads bring bad people.’ Having lived in both, no matter what the scale, I’d be in heaven if Sandpoint turned into a culturally inspiring city such as Florence, Italy; but if it turns into an automotively driven demi-society such as L.A., I’d be in mourning.”
Dick Villelli, owner and developer of Hidden Lakes Golf Resort, has confidence that Sandpoint can handle growth without becoming “Aspenized.”
“We are what (other resort areas) used to be,” he told USA Today. “But we’re not going to be what they’ve become.”
Statistics 1990 2000 2004
Population, Bonner County: 26,622 36,835 39,162
Population, Sandpoint: 5,561 6,835 7,600
Average sales price – residential: $64,736 $143,109 $149,900
Building permits issued: 545 617 957 (as of 8/04)
Bonner County public school students
(average daily attendance)
5,331 5,552 5,155
Per capita personal income
(latest data 2002)
$13,177 $20,363 $21,865
Labor force 12,034 17,107 17,908
Unemployment rate 9.8% 9.0% 7.6%
He places much of his confidence in the caliber of people who live here. “We’ve seen what has happened to other places, and that’s not what we want for Sandpoint,” he said. Villelli has put his money where his mouth is, so to speak, in the development of a resort Golf Digest has rated as “4-star” (and likely to be “5-star” by next year, Villelli boasts). “Look at what we’ve done. If every development paid as much attention to migratory paths for wildlife, gave as much area to greenbelt, we would be fine,” Villelli said. “My dad taught me that you can’t stop development, but you can do it right.” Villelli says Hidden Lakes “sets a tone” for any development to come.
So far, the publicity has phones ringing off their hooks in local real estate offices, while area websites are recording record amounts of “hits” as people look to find out more about this place that’s garnered so much national attention. The Idaho Department of Labor reports that hotel/motel receipts totaled $542,640 in June – an 18.3 percent jump over the same time last year.
New waterfront developments, Seasons at Sandpoint right downtown and Dover Bay two miles away, are sure to draw even more attention. Sales for Seasons started in 2004 for up to 117 new homes, and 27 were already presold by September. Developed by nationally recognized Bella Vista Group, the project re-opens Sandpoint’s waterfront to new buyers. Dover Bay will add another 500 homes and is being developed by Waterfront Property Management, a locally owned company.
Publicity has also come through West Coast newspapers that report regularly on this area in positive terms. Rumor also has it that police departments in Southern California have posted information about Sandpoint on their walls.
It’s a refreshing change, as national publicity in the past has painted Sandpoint with a negative brush due to events outside our borders – the Aryan Nations compound near Coeur d’Alene, the Randy Weaver shootout near Bonners Ferry. “I was certainly aware of the (negative) publicity before I came to Sandpoint,” Sunset’s Finnegan said, “but the impression I got after visiting was very positive.”
These days, it’s the good news that dominates, and the “secret” of Sandpoint is most certainly out. The only thing that’s left to answer is whether the city can maintain the attributes that make it shine if people elsewhere pick up stakes to head to the “best small town in the West.”

Plus: Case Study: a comparison with Jackson, Wyo.

Winter 2005

The entire contents of this site are COPYRIGHT © Keokee Co. Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.