To the casual vacationer, Ketchum, Idaho, may not appear to change much from year to year. Yet, in the midst of a population boom and a dire scramble for new housing, its nostalgic charm maintains a sense of place. Likewise, the handful of entrepreneurs who have stepped up to take the reins of local businesses know that honoring its history is the key to success in the Wood River Valley.
Townies of a certain era may recall how Olin Glenne, a frequenter of ski runs, hiking trails, and singletrack, worked for Sturtevants of Sun Valley for 15 years before buying it in 2013. Since then, many proverbial torches have been passed, and as cornerstones like Board Bin, Lefty’s Bar and Grill and even The Toy Store have all changed hands, new owners have chosen to stay committed to the tried and true in an effort to support the Ketchum they’ve always loved.
Keeping the Dream Alive
Expertise can promote success in retail, but a passionate owner can also drive a business’s local success. So, when John Melin purchased the climbing and cross-country mainstay Elephant’s Perch in March of 2022, he knew he’d follow in the footsteps of company founder Bob Rosso, who opened it in 1976.
Rosso was a founder of the Boulder Mountain Tour, a cross-country ski race in its 50th year, and an early competitor in the Galena Grinder annual mountain bike race. Rosso’s role in these events is well respected, so much so that the 2023 Boulder Mountain Tour will be held in his honor.
Melin hopes he, too, can honor Rosso’s legacy. In October, The Elephant’s Perch hosted a street party to benefit the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, an organization Rosso heavily supported. Melin and store manager Scott McCoubrey look forward to planning more events and reconnecting “The Perch” with the community that has helped it become such a local icon.
“We’re just trying to turn it into a really good business,” Melin says. “Bob is a legend in the community, [he] did so much around here.” Though he concedes that it will be hard to live up to the many events Rosso organized, Melin adds, “We’re going to try and identify things we can carry forward and continue to do well.”
Working Hard, Playing Harder
For Paddy McIlvoy, the choice isn’t a hard one. As a managing partner of Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum, founded in 1975, he embraces Backwoods’ long practice of employing staff who love to geek out on outdoor sports with their clientele. McIlvoy wants to promote an environment where expertise is priority number one, and he and his team can continue to do what they love at work and at play.
McIlvoy’s relationship with Backwoods began early under the employ of another outdoorsman, Andy Munter, who had owned Backwoods since 1983. By 2018, McIlvoy proved he had what it takes to handle the shop’s day-to-day needs. After five years of preparation (and Munter’s blessing), the transition was finalized in June 2022.
McIlvoy is enthusiastic that a store like Backwoods can excel in Ketchum and wants to honor that in his new tenure.
“I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel,” he says. “I am lucky enough to be stepping into a really good thing that has had a loyal following in this community.” By his reckoning, if he’s done his job, Backwoods can help Ketchum’s growing population enjoy all the excitement the valley offers.
More Than Just Sandwiches
Choosing to run a business in this town is a commitment to a particular lifestyle, and Ketchum’s bars and eateries lay claim to some hardworking young businessmen and women. Brothers Trevor and Sinjin Thomas, who own Johnny G’s Subshack, will tell you that while tough, stepping into the role of restaurateur can be personally fulfilling. As founding owners Johnny and Gretchen Gorham leave their nearly 25-year labor of love behind, the brothers feel like they’ve finally arrived. As Trevor says, “It’s like winning the lottery.”
Trevor and Sinjin have worked the restaurant and bar circuit in Ketchum for years, and their gratitude to the Gorhams, whom they consider mentors, is palpable.
“We want to carry on their legacy because we have such respect for what they’ve built in this town and [for] what they’re actually passing off to us,” says Sinjin.
What Johnny and Gretchen are passing on is an attitude wherein feeding a diverse community of contractors, laborers, and even middle schoolers are all one needs to be happy. And that generous outlook is one the Thomases feel prepared to inherit.
“The subshack is sandwiches,” Trevor says, “but it’s more than that. It’s a personable place where people come and feel comfortable and commune.”
In just one year, Ketchum, Idaho, has seen many “torches” change hands, and time will tell which businesses are next. Still, even if the familiar faces change, they’re clearly striving to keep the flame alive.