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Spirit of the historic creamery lives on with new building owners

 

Following yet another successful Creamery Picnic in Stevensville, it seems only fitting to re-introduce the Creamery Building and its new owners, Carrie and Brett McEnroe-Mauri.

The first Creamery Picnic was held in 1911 following a devastating fire. A successful community-wide effort to rebuild the razed structure was completed in a single month on August 1, 1911. At the time the building housed the Bitterroot Cooperative Creamery which provided a marketplace for the milk and cream from local dairies and was central to the local economy. The Creamery Building will always be of tremendous significance to the Creamery Picnic celebration which is considered to be the oldest ongoing community festival in the state of Montana.

Last summer, Carrie McEnroe, a native Montanan, learned that the Creamery Building was facing another pot

Carrie McEnroe and Brett Mauri and their son Keelan, in front of the sign for their Creamery Antique Mall which is housed in the original Bitterroot Cooperative Creamery building, the construction of which was the impetus for the first Creamery Picnic in 1911. Jean Schurman photo.

Carrie McEnroe and Brett Mauri and their son Keelan, in front of the sign for their Creamery Antique Mall which is housed in the original Bitterroot Cooperative Creamery building, the construction of which was the impetus for the first Creamery Picnic in 1911. Jean Schurman photo.

entially devastating threat. Recognizing the desperate need for someone to step in to save the historic structure, Carrie and her husband decided to set aside their plans for her new business, turning their attention instead onto the Creamery Building.

While fire was not the culprit this time, the couple says the bottom line is that the implosion of our economy had set into motion an equally insidious set of events that could have left the building in ruins just as the fire of 1911 did.

When Carrie began working with the previous owner of the building last summer, she quickly realized that if someone didn’t come forward to purchase the property or come up with a plan and some considerable investment, it would inevitably be lost for back taxes and likely bulldozed, lost to the town forever. Carrie’s husband Brett Mauri, following his own inspection of the building, stated that if the property were allowed to languish for a few more years, the town would likely have little choice but to condemn the structure.

Another victim of the economic meltdown, which began in 2007, the Creamery Building could no longer cover its own costs. The fixed overhead costs of the property are significant, according to Brett. He said they will likely have to spend over a half million dollars over the next several years to undo the scars left behind from a variety of haphazard “improvements” that have been made to the building over the decades and to address a long list of renovations that will be required to save, restore and preserve the historic landmark in perpetuity.

Like most residents of Stevensville, Carrie and her husband have a strong emotional attachment to the building as one of the town’s historic landmarks. So, not unlike the town’s rally to rebuild following the fire of 1911, the couple decided to step in and attempt to save the building from its inevitable demise, purchasing it in April of this year.

“Honestly, we were very nervous about moving forward with the property,” says Carrie, because the short-term economic outlook remains so uncertain. Brett and Carrie operate a timber frame business from their home in Stevensville and they say that production has been lower in the last two years than any time in the history of the company, which was founded in 1999.

Nevertheless, they decided to move forward because, as former owner Arlene Chapman puts it, “They are the perfect team for the job.”

Carrie studied business management and sales and marketing at the University of Montana in Missoula and has a long and successful background in retail sales and display, having managed several businesses in Big Sky, where she lived for nearly 20 years. Brett studied historic preservation at the University of Vermont and has spent his entire adult life designing and building homes that reflect the architecture of a bygone era, when buildings were hewn from rough timber and raised by and for the community.

Brett and Carrie both point to their newfound opportunity to become acquainted with so many of the town’s longtime residents as perhaps the most rewarding of their many experiences since purchasing the Creamery Building only four months ago. Carrie points out that the Creamery Antique Mall, which they re-opened a month after buying the building, feels more like a local gathering place than a retail shop. People stop in daily, just to see what’s going on there and to catch up on community happenings.

But beyond that, the couple has been amazed by how many people have shown up just to lend a helping hand.

“We’ve spent many long evenings over at the creamery, cleaning, painting, tearing down and rebuilding, and while it feels like the first phase is taking forever to complete, when we look back on it, we really have come a long way in very little time,” says Brett. He and Carrie are adamant about the fact that what has been accomplished couldn’t possibly have been without all of the help they’ve received along the way.

“Much to our surprise, as soon as we decided to move forward, one after another, people we’ve never even met started showing up offering a helping hand,” says Carrie. From trying to tame the neglected grounds to removing years of junk, to tearing down water damaged ceilings, locals have once again come to the rescue of the historic building.

Carrie and Brett both agree that they “have a very long way to go.” But in the end they believe all of the hard work will be worthwhile and rewarding, not only to them, but more importantly to the community.

“We just want our son Keelan and our neighbors in Stevensville to enjoy the creamery as so many have before them,” said Brett.

The husband and wife team are nearing completion of phase one of their undertaking by reopening the Creamery Antique Mall. The shop is stocked full of antiques, collectibles and other findings the two have collected over the years, both locally and from their travels. They’ve also attracted a handful of other vendors, nine in all, who have added fabulous collections ranging from old world Dutch furniture to a great collection of vintage motorcycles.

Carrie’s goal is to bring in a total of 18 vendors before she turns her attention to introducing her up-cycling shop, which she hopes to take on sometime next year. The couple also hopes to attract other retailers and local businesses to round out the community’s experience when visiting the Creamery Building. The word on the street is that the two just might turn the Creamery around, establishing it as a destination location.

As far as the building goes, Brett says he’s in it for the long haul, referring to the building humorously as “the proverbial money pit.”

“We haven’t even begun work on the exterior of the building which is what I’m most anxious to take on,” says Mauri, “and we’ve only just scratched the surface on the interior. Our goal was to get the place back up and running, fix the leaks, and start generating some income to help offset at least part of the property’s operating cost. It’s going to be a challenge, but we are passionate about the property, passionate about Stevensville, and up to the task.”

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