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Justin Stephens speaks to a group of approximately 60 people at an Open House hosted by the Southern Hills Economic Development Corporation. Stephens and his family will be opening High Mountain Outfitters later this month on North River Street in downtown Hot Springs.

SHEDCO hosts Open House

HOT SPRINGS – It’s been said for many years that the community of Hot Springs is on the verge of something big, in terms of an economic boom of sorts.

For anyone attending an Open House hosted by the Southern Hills Economic Development Corporation (SHEDCO) last Thursday at Bourbon County in downtown Hot Springs, the air of optimism felt that evening could be a significant indicator that the future is now. And the key driving force to that current feeling of positivity is the recent sale of several downtown buildings, and those new owners’ plans to open businesses and hire employees.

“Small business entrepreneurship is the back bone of a rural economy and we are witnessing a renaissance of entrepreneurship in Hot Springs,” said recently by Andrea Powers, Executive Director of SHEDCO, who organized last week’s open house event. “You can look at the number of downtown businesses that have opened over the past two years and are well past the survival state of the business cycle. It used to be that businesses opened and closed within a year but that is not the case anymore.”

Some of the town’s newest small business entrepreneurs – three total, all of whom recently purchased downtown buildings and have plans to open new retail businesses – took center stage at the Open House last week and told the more than 60 attendees about themselves and their plans.

Speakers included Julie Stephans, who this past weekend held a grand opening for Juju’s Naturals at 505 N. River Street; Justin Stephens, who on Nov. 20 will open High Mountain Outfitters in the former Wild Burro Bookstore location at 503 N. River Street; and, Mike and Tavi Sommer who purchased the former Smith Fargo Mercantile building at 321 N. River and will be re-opening the upstairs guest suites in December with plans to open a new retail sports nutrition store called Juxtinutrition on the main level in January.

In addition to the three new business owners speaking, representatives from the Home Slice advertising agency also gave a digital marketing presentation and made a pitch for a Community Co-op Package in which Hot Springs businesses could combine their efforts to promote themselves along with the community through a wide variety of digital media. Also, Dave Dessel of Rapid City’s “Trail Arts,” spoke to the attendees about the possibility of developing new trail systems in and around Hot Springs, which could link the community to such landmarks as Angostura or the Mickelson Trail. With 35 years experience in the business of developing trails, he said his motivation for attending the open house was not financial, but one of professional advocacy and a desire to offer his knowledge to help Hot Springs.

Julie Stephans and her husband Mark are from Daytona Beach, Fla., and came to the area after purchasing some land sight-unseen along Hwy. 71 south of Hot Springs. Describing herself as an “ambitious risk-taker,” the real estate broker originally from Georgia, said she and her husband built a house on their Cascade Road land and then began looking at other investment property in town, which led them to eventually purchasing the former medical building on the 500 block of North River Street.

Juju’s Naturals main product line includes premium hand-made bath soaps, lotions and bath bombs, but will also carry sterling silver jewelry, and some clothing and accessories. Stephans said her natural soaps feature 140 different flavors and are all made in the USA. She said they also have plans to remodel an upstairs apartment within the building and begin renting it out as Airbnb lodging.

Justin Stephens currently owns and operates a High Mountain Outfitters store in Spearfish with his father, but recently announced their family’s plans to expand into Hot Springs with another store. He said one of the reasons they chose Hot Springs as a second location was because they had a lot of customers from Hot Springs come to their store in the Northern Hills. He described his family-owned business as a mini version of the internationally known REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc) as they offer many well-known brands of outdoor clothing and equipment, in addition to some rental items like bicycles and kayaks.

He added how he was looking forward to being a part of the community of Hot Springs and admired its “beautiful downtown,” how he viewed its residents as an “active community” and how he appreciated being given such a warm welcome by everyone whom he had met. The outdoor apparel store is currently advertising for full-time and part-time sales associates. Resumes may be sent to

Mike and Tavi Sommer are originally from North Dakota and made their way to Hot Springs after Tavi was hired by Fall River Health Services as an Occupational Therapist. Mike said he first became familiar with Hot Springs several years ago while working as a manufacturing rep for NAPA Auto Parts out of Billings, Mont. During that time, he would make occasional trips to the community as it was part of his territory and had always appreciated what the town offered.

Despite the couple’s original plans to open a nutrition store in Rapid City, Mike said “Hot Springs found us,” as they kind of stumbled upon the opportunity to purchase the Smith Fargo building while their local realtor was showing them potential places to live. After ultimately agreeing to look at the downtown property late one day, Mike said he was amazed that the building was for sale, considering the beautiful guest rooms upstairs and spacious main level.

While planning to live on-site in their new building, the couple’s first order of business will be to open the guest suites, but soon to follow will be the opening of Juxtinutrition which will feature a number of sports nutrition products, some of which are designed for weight loss while still maintaining muscle mass. They also plan to offer healthy juice and smoothie drinks, as well as unique coffee and tea products for their suite guests, and also local residents.

Both Mike and Tavi expressed their great excitement for opening their own business in Hot Springs and their appreciation for the support shown to them by the community thus far, as well as from Powers and SHEDCO.

All three new business owners who spoke expressed a desire to change the culture of downtown Hot Springs by keeping later and more consistent hours and being open year-round until 7 p.m.

SHEDCO Board Members Curt Lout and Kelly Cape closed the open house and thanked everyone for attending. Lout, who owns and operates Mammoth Handcrafted Signs in Hot Springs, spoke of the importance of networking with fellow local business owners to help one another.

“We’re not here to talk about the weather, we’re here to talk about your business,” he said. “Hot Springs is a great community and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Cape, who is the current SHEDCO President, added how proud he was of all the speakers and those involved with SHEDCO and said how the open house demonstrated that SHEDCO had been successful in helping to improve the business climate by assisting in the filling of empty storefronts in Hot Springs. He added that for SHEDCO to continue, it needed the support of the county’s residents and businesses to help guide the future of the organization.

For more information about SHEDCO, visit their website

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