Robin Holt was forced to reinvent herself after a failed gamble left her unemployed. Meanwhile, Cindy and Andy Kofile’s bet of expanding their business left them with a royal flush, and great discounts during an economic downturn helped B.J. and Christine Bollier double their retail space.
The tenaciously creative in Payson can eke out a living. The economy appears to be improving, and several recent success stories have tempered earlier business busts.
However, even after business returns in this retail- and tourism-based economy, making a living in Payson can require self-employment.
Holt, 45, chose to leave her job in a dentist’s office this spring to pursue another opportunity that fell apart. For the first time in 30 years, she found herself unemployed, with little prospect for a paycheck.
Life had delivered lemons. “If I could afford Ketel One, I’d make lemonade,” Holt said, laughing.
She worked a series of temporary jobs over the summer, but ultimately returned to school for massage therapy, a decision that requires her to live with family.
“You cannot make a living unless you’re lucky and have that one really good job, so you have to create your own entity,” said Holt. “I’m going to create myself a career and a job at the expense of my family.”
Still, she laments the shortage of livingwage employment.
If Payson had a beauty school, she would attend. “It would be really great if a manufacturer came,” Holt added. She would love a $12 an hour job with benefits.
Although Holt has family in the Valley and could move there, she doesn’t want to. Payson is home.
“If we lose all the children and become strictly a retirement town, we’re dead,” Holt said.
Ken Volz, executive director of the Northern Gila County Economic Development Corporation, also fears the impact of the youth exodus. He, along with other local government groups, is working to diversify the area’s economy.
Prospective industries include research and development, sustainability or other technology.
Payson’s youth wants to stay here, Volz said, “but they want to have a satisfying, fulfilling career, which doesn’t exist now.”
Some local youths have created their own opportunities.
B.J. Bollier, who grew up in Payson and owns health food market Vita Mart with his wife, recently doubled the size of his store. A troubled economy actually helped because of stellar prices on everything from rent to produce refrigerators.
“Everything is on sale,” said Bollier. The couple saw an additional 150 sales in one week after moving to the larger store. However, the couple waited to expand until volume at the old store could pay for the larger space.
Bollier said that the couple will hire several employees within the next couple of months to continue offering personalized service, despite their growth.
“It’s not walking into a huge mega mart,” B.J. said. His customers see him mopping the floor and stocking groceries. They like that sense of connection and knowing where their money goes. They enjoy knowing the owners’ names.
Such is the beauty of a small-town store.
Volz speculated that the Bollier’s Payson origins have contributed to their success. “They’re very much convinced that this is the place to be and they want to be here,” he said.
Cindy and Andy Kofile are not from Payson. They are, however, experienced business owners. When they expanded their ReRuns Resale Boutique on Main Street by adding MoJoe’s Café in August, friends skeptically warned them of bad timing.
But the Kofiles had long ago turned off their cable television, tired of the bad news. They refused to succumb to fear.
“There are a lot of people, as soon as the economy starts to get bad, they cut and cut and cut,” said Cindy. The Kofiles instead entered into the café business — an industry they had never experienced before.
“It was a big leap of faith,” Cindy said.
Initially, the idea was to provide husbands a respite while their wives shopped.
Ultimately, they discovered an untapped desire for mocha iced coffees on Main Street.
“We’re very conservative people,” Cindy said. “We didn’t overstep or overbuild our ability.” The Kofiles declined to reveal how much they invested in the venture, but the new café’s small size increased the likelihood of profitability.
For now, the couple run their businesses without hired help, but could hire in the future as business grows.
Even if the Bolliers and the Kofiles were to both hire new employees, the retail jobs they would offer probably wouldn’t attract the same candidate as would a research and development firm. And so as Volz continues work to diversify the economy, residents like Holt, Bollier and Kofile will continue to carve out their existence surrounded by mountains, in the place they love to call home.
This is the first in an intermittent series about how people survive economically in Rim Country. If you would like to share your tale, or know someone who would, contact reporter Suzanne Jacobson at firstname.lastname@example.org.