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Ellwood takes initiative for downtown 'exposure'

by Gwen Albers Western News Reporter
| June 28, 2006 12:00 AM

Don't tell Christi Ellwood there's nothing worth advertising in downtown Libby.

The Mineral Avenue shop owner might respond with a painting.

Ellwood did just that after someone criticized the downtown for its lack of stores during a recent meeting concerning a $7.65 million plan to revitalize the area.

Last week, Ellwood and her husband, Dan, co-owners of Cabinet Mountain Furniture Pottery & Gifts, hung the mural on the Second Street side of their building.

A former art teacher at Libby High School, Christi Ellwood got the idea from the opening scene of the 1990s television sitcom Northern Exposure, which takes place in the somewhat eccentric town of Cicely in the wilds of Alaska.

The mural's getting noticed.

"I think it's a wonderful idea" said Mona Brue, owner of nearby TayGrams Beads and Things at 101 W. Second St. "When I sit outside, I hear a lot of people talking about it."

"I think it's admirable," said Todd Berget, a Libby Public Schools teacher and artist who makes the large sculptured eagles and has painted murals both in Libby and across the region. "You can either sit back and wait for something to happen or jump in and do it."

Betty Jo Wood, executive director for Libby Revitalization, also appreciates Christi Ellwood's effort.

"It's always great when a business owner takes the initiative to spruce up their building," Wood said.

During an earlier meeting to discuss revitalization, it was mentioned that signs are needed along Highways 2 and 37 to direct visitors to the downtown, Christi Ellwood said.

Someone responded that signs should not be put up until there's something "worth advertising."

"I really felt disappointed that that was the opinion someone would have of our downtown," Ellwood said. "We just feel there's a lot the downtown has to offer."

She's believes in a "grass roots effort" to accomplish things.

The Ellwoods last fall purchased the building at 206 Mineral Ave. formerly occupied by Epperson Mountaineering and Libby Litho. The couple painted the exterior and interior, and remodeled and installed new carpet, lighting and an electrical system. The Ellwoods also will add awnings.

A proposed downtown renovation calls for a more attractive, pedestrian-friendly environment with sidewalk dining, art displays, flower baskets, relocating and restoring the railroad depot at the end of Mineral Avenue, and improving business and signs.

A later phase would include entry monuments, landscaping along the streets and narrowing crosswalks, and placing a sculpture at the end of Mineral Avenue near the relocated depot.

A group of downtown property owners has organized opposition to the streetscape project commissioned by Libby Revitalization Inc., in part because it would require them to pay $75 to $100 per foot of street frontage for improvements.

Libby Downtown Association is opposed to the streetscape proposal and creation of a special improvement district that would require downtown property to help fund the project. The association believes property owners should pay for their improvements, while the city should pay for things like new sidewalks and curbs.