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Local couple opening store and grocery business in Ririe

Business & Money

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RIRIE – A historic building in Ririe is getting a facelift and will soon be occupied by a new tenant.

Chad Ambrose and his fiancee, Kelly Wilson, recently purchased the building at 317 Main Street. They’re renovating it and are planning to open Lovebird Green Grocer & Art Co. in mid-August.

Ambrose describes it as a general store that will offer homegrown food and art for customers.

“It’s basically a general store, a full grocery store (with fresh meat and produce),” Ambrose tells EastIdahoNews.com. “We’re planning to have a good selection of camping gear, Reed’s Dairy Ice Cream, Manwaring Cheese and milk. If somebody wants something in the store, we’re going to take orders and try our hardest to accommodate (those requests).”

The store will also have a kitchen offering pre-made foods like pizza and pizza dough bread with plans to offer delivery in the near future. There will be a seating area with picnic tables in the back of the store where people can eat.

“Everybody loves pizza and beer and … we would really like to be able to sell beer and wine for people one day,” says Ambrose.

Ambrose says he wants the store to have a fun atmosphere and he’s planning to have a miniature train that runs on a track inside the store with small grain silos built into it, along with other artwork on the walls.

Though Lovebird will be open to anyone, it will primarily cater to tourists who travel to Ririe every year to spend time at Heise, 7N Ranch and Kelly Canyon.

Wilson says their goal is to provide items these people might need during their stay.

“What happens if they need to replenish their groceries?” she says. “The winter skiers — if you want to hike and stuff like that, where do you get food or camping resources? We’re looking to cater to them and locals as well.”

During the winter, U.S. Highway 26 — which leads drivers from Idaho Falls to Ririe — often gets shut down due to inclement weather. Ambrose says having a place that’s close for Ririe residents to come for supplies in this situation is also helpful.

Filling a need in the community and overcoming challenges

Ambrose and Wilson moved to Ririe three years ago from Arizona. Ambrose says they loved the small-town sentiment where everybody is friendly and waves to each other as they pass.

After getting established, they saw a need in the community for a store like this.

“The biggest and the first need is fresh produce. It’s such an anomaly that we live in an agricultural area … but there’s no fresh produce you can buy here. You have to travel to Rigby, Rexburg or Idaho Falls,” Wilson says. “We want to provide that service.”

Despite the need, Ambrose and Wilson say starting this venture comes with a huge learning curve because they’ve never done anything like this before.

“I have a business management degree that I got in 2011. I figured that would help out. We’re sort of providing a need and learning along the way,” says Wilson.

The project has also come with some unique challenges. The biggest obstacle has been the lack of an HVAC system. There is a gas fireplace but a chain-link fence around the perimeter of the playground at Ririe Elementary School next door makes the vent inaccessible.

Wilson says the fence is a safety hazard because it’s only two inches away from the vent.

fireplace clearance
Courtesy Kelly Wilson

“As we’ve been remodeling, kids come out for recess on the playground. If we turn on the heat, we’d not only melt the fence but we could potentially burn a kid. We couldn’t, in good faith, turn that on. We’ve asked the school repeatedly to move the fence back about five feet so we can use the heat source,” says Wilson.

School District Superintendent Jeff Gee says the playground is tiny and they’re reluctant to give up five feet of space just because a previous owner put a fireplace on that side of the building.

“If you have to have (several feet of space) when you put in a fireplace, why did they put it in if it was already on their property line? If I were to go in and put something on my property line where I live, I wouldn’t expect my neighbor to then just hand over property,” Gee says.

The dispute over property boundaries is difficult to resolve because Wilson says the building’s historical records were destroyed in a fire more than 100 years ago.

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History served hot and flame-broiled

On July 4, 1919, a fire broke out in a livery stable and spread throughout the town. According to information gathered by the Ririe High School Class of 1959, the fire jumped from building to building. The town had a small firefighting force, but their efforts to contain the flames were unsuccessful. By the time the fire was extinguished, many of the largest buildings on the south side of town were destroyed.

“Sweet Surrender Breads, my building, the Ririe bar, South Fork Restaurant (and the other buildings in this block) survived the fire, which I think is incredible,” Wilson says. “(This strip) is called the Ririe Pavilion … and all the buildings have been here for more than 100 years.”

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The building Wilson and Ambrose purchased dates back to 1890 when David Ririe and his wife, Leah Ann Lovell, first settled the area. Wilson says it was originally a general store called Golden Rule.

“We had an inspector look at our building when we first bought it and he’s like, ‘These timbers are hand-sawed.’ The bones of the building are very solid. They’re not like the two-by-fours that you buy at Lowe’s,” says Wilson. “I walk in the building and think about all the people that lived here and all the things that happened and it’s just very special.”

golden rule store
Historic photo of the Golden Rule Store. | Courtesy Kelly Wilson

The building’s compelling history only increases the couple’s desire to open a business there and they hope the property dispute can be resolved soon. They recently filed a cease and desist order against the school. Gee says the school board is awaiting a response from their attorney about a recommended course of action.

Challenges aside, the couple is excited for the opening of their business and is considering opening another store once this one is up and running. They’re looking forward to completing the renovations so they can serve customers.

“We’ll see how this works out. It’s really exciting but it’s also a risk and a little scary,” Ambrose says.

“Lovebird is a celebration of me and Chad’s love for each other,” Wilson adds. “Chad and I have such a healthy, loving relationship. We work in true partnership together and Lovebird is a reflection of that. (In a similar fashion), Lovebird is really a reflection of customers coming in and taking care of people they love.”

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