The Carey-Picabo Chamber of Commerce will hold its first open house next month in hopes of attracting local businesses into its fold, with the intention of reinventing a community that has slowed in growth. Chamber Chairman Mike Higgs and the six-person volunteer board of directors are full of optimism about making the area a more welcoming place for businesses and an attractive tourist destination.
The chamber was founded in March 2017 but has no members. In an interview on May 23, Higgs said the chamber is more of a community development nonprofit organization, registered as a 501(c)(3), with several primary objectives: encourage business development and expansion of the area, promote conservation of the area’s lands and history, promote Carey and Picabo as “gateways to the world’s finest recreation,” market Carey and Picabo as viable and affordable places to live, pursue community improvement and beautification projects, encourage shopping locally and assist in community events and activities.
But Carey has been struggling to attract new businesses to the area, particularly since the closing of the town’s grocery store.
Carey’s only grocery store closed in April 2016, and since then, Higgs said, the community has adapted to doing their shopping in Twin Falls or in the Wood River Valley. Even before the store closed, a 2015 study done by The Hunger Coalition deemed Carey a “food desert” with a severe shortage of fresh produce and meat.
Higgs said the lack of a grocery store is by far the biggest challenge the community is tackling. Higgs and other board members have reached out to both local and regional grocery stores in the hope of luring a company that can fill the void. Higgs said the city is not resistant to growth, but its residents have become accustomed to a lack of resources in their community.
“We’ll continue to pursue options for a grocery store” for the roughly 1,000 residents living in the Carey-Picabo region, Higgs said.
A study done in 2011 by Headwater Economics, an independent, nonprofit research group whose mission is to improve community development and land management decisions in the West, looked at ideas for economic recovery after the recession. The study indicated that the city was not friendly to businesses, in terms of permits, fees and available infrastructure.
That same study encouraged community leaders to pitch Carey as a gateway community to some of the finest outdoor recreation in the world, including world-class fly fishing, access to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve and proximity to fine dining and fine arts in the Wood River Valley. Higgs says that’s what the chamber intends to do.
“We’re trying to reinvent ourselves,” Higgs said, adding that many members of the community think of Carey as being the “neglected pinky” of Blaine County’s five cities, and hopes to change that by turning Carey and Picabo into the “heart of the county.”
On June 11, the chamber will hold its first open house to promote to the community the goals and initiatives that the chamber supports, as well as to encourage local businesses to join and be a part of bettering their towns. The open house will be from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at the Carey City Hall and Community Center.
Later in the summer, Carey will celebrate its centennial, and Higgs said he hopes that event will bring together the community and attract visitors from outside the Picabo-Carey area.
The full day of events, scheduled for July 20, will include a parade, a car show, two bands, food trucks and a rodeo.
The Blaine County Fair also takes place every year in Carey, and Higgs said he has plans to make it less of an “underwhelming” event in the future, with the idea of creating a sort of retro carnival theme that would bring back classic games such as the three-legged race and knocking down bottles with mini sandbags. Higgs said his wife came up with the idea after watching the 1960 Disney film “PollyAnna,” in which a small town hosts a carnival to raise money.
For now, Higgs, who also sits on the Sun Valley Economic Development board and the Sun Valley Institute board, says the chamber will continue working in tandem with the Carey City Council to reinvent the area.
“We’re the next powerhouse of the county,” he said.