Apparently, there’s more to Idaho than just potatoes.

Known as the City of Trees, and nestled in Ida County, Boise, with a population of 186,000, is the largest city in the state with a population of a mere 1.2-million and also the state capital.

The city was first discovered in the mid nineteenth century by French-Canadian trappers who, when finished crossing the area’s flat and arid plain, came upon a forest by a river and greeted the sight with much enthusiasm. They named the spot Boise, which in French means “wooded.” The city itself was incorporated in 1864 after the area’s gold rush was in full swing.

Boise’s land area is approximately 74.67 miles, and its economy thrives mainly upon the electronics and technology industry. Computer companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Micron are based in Boise. Amidst it all is a strong, long-present, and fast-growing skateboard scene. And behind it–for over a decade now–is the local skate shop Newt and Harold’s.

Lori Ambur and Lori Wright, two local snowboarders, founded the shop in 1991. Ambur and Wright initially opened a used-sports-equipment store in 1986, but after their passion for snowboarding prevailed, they decided to focus on a snowboard shop. However, it didn’t take them long to notice a growing demand for skateboards. More and more customers were asking for skateboard-related goods, insisting that snowboarding and skateboarding were closely related. One customer even demanded it. “We had a kid come into the store, and he said that we had to start selling skateboards because it went right in line with snowboards,” says Wright. “He just kept bugging us, so we started selling them.

“We kind of rode out the slow years–that was a learning experience for us–but eventually skateboarding just started taking off–especially shoes.”

The shop is rather spacious at approximately 7,000 square feet in size. About 5,500 square feet is floor space, the rest is split between a warehouse, service area, office, and staff area. Considering the shop is in the thick of Northwest snowboarding, snowboard-related product is given a bit more space than skateboard-related goods. “It’s probably 60-percent snow and 40-percent skate,” says Wright. “Probably because Idaho is cold and has a longer snow season. Although, we do sell a lot of softgoods. Snowboarding is a bigger money market in our area because of the weather. It’s snowy for about six months here, and so we have to deal with the seasons.

“Mount Hood is not far from here, so we sell a lot of things like backpacks and clothes in the summer. Obviously in March we’re not selling very many snowboards–but we’re still selling them.”

Local skateboarder Paul Whitworth is the buyer at Newt and Harold’s. He’s worked at the shop for three years now, and like everywhere else, he admits skateboarding is growing every year in Boise. “We’ve got new guys coming up–it’s a pretty strong skate scene.”

Whitworth notes, “Although there’s a university here, I wouldn’t say Boise is a college town. Electronics are a big part of the economy here.”

Most likely due to the presence of industry, there are a lot of families in Boise–close to 60,000. “The average customers,” explains Whitworth, “are male skateboarders between fourteen and eighteen years old. A lot of these kids don’t just come to buy skate stuff, but come by to watch videos or hang out. About 75 percent of people who come in are heavily into skateboarding–and the other 25 percent are curious about skateboarding.” Boise has two outdoor public skateparks, present since the mid 90s, offering locals a street course, ramps, and bowls.

Whitworth admits that although business may have been seasonal in the past, in recent years, the rising number of kids has kept business growing, even through the winter months. “There are more kids into skateboarding,” he says. “We do carry snowboard stuff in the summer, but the quantities are minimal. We sell a lot of snow stuff in thwinter, but there are definitely more kids into skateboarding. Dollar-wise, snowboard-related stuff is greater as the start-up cost is higher than buying a complete skateboard. But skate sales, (have) been really good.” Within the skate shop, hardgoods make up 40 percent of the inventory, whereas shoes and softgoods each make up 30 percent.

Wright shares fond recollections of skateboarding to high school: “I skateboarded years ago–when I was in high school, but it was nothing like what these guys do today. I just skateboarded to and from high school. I do have a longboard, though. We (Wright and Ambur) both love to snowboard. Our buyers are all very avid skateboarders or snowboarders. That’s who we hire.” It’s that shared love for snowboarding that inspired the two to start a store in the first place.

Fortunately for everyone involved (owners, staff, and locals alike), the shop plays a strong role in supporting the city’s local skate scene beyond simply providing equipment. The shop sponsors the local Warped Tour qualifier every summer. The all-age-groups open contest put on by Vans is done through the shop. Newt and Harold’s also holds an annual am contest, usually in midsummer. The shop advertises in the two local newspapers, as well as local high school newspapers. The shop’s Web site is currently under construction.

Newt and Harold’s has long-established shop snowboard and skateboard teams. The skate team includes locals Matt Whitlock, Kyle Hoskins, Aaron Hoschouer, and Steve Schleichei. “We try to help them out as much as we can,” says Whitworth.

Wright adds, “We have a big-screen TV and hold video premieres here. We try to be a place where people can come by, hang out, and find out what’s going on. We’ve probably been doing snow and skate competitions for seven or eight years now. We do a huge snow video premiere out in the parking lot every fall. As skate videos are released we premiere them in the store. We just had a big art competition for both our T-shirt and skateboard logos–we produce this stuff to feature a local artist’s work.”

Over the years, Wright and Ambur have comfortably settled into their respective roles at the shop. Ambur handles all of the softgoods and shoe buying. “Our skateboard buyers have tons of input in all of it–especially in the shoes,” Wright explains. “We’re a lot more hands-on than most people would imagine. We oversee buying, advertising, and during the busy months, we’re down there selling side by side with everyone else. Of course we oversee the administrative side of it. Right now we work there an average of 40 hours a week. It used to be more, but I’ve tried to simply work more during the busy months and take it easy during the slower months.”

Considering the shop’s been in business over a decade now, Wright and Ambur have definitely observed changes over the years. “We saw huge boom years, especially with the shoe business,” says Wright. “I think that’s definitely starting to taper off. Also, board shapes and pro models change more rapidly than in the past. Obviously there are a lot more people skateboarding now than there were before. The idea of a skateboarder isn’t what it used to be eight or ten years ago. People used to think skateboarders are gang members or something–that’s changed.

“A lot of the skateboarders have grown up. All the guys who were fifteen or twenty are now 25 and 30, and have kids. And so there’s a bit more maturity there that wasn’t there as much before. And now you see dads coming in with their kids buying boards for both themselves and their kids.”

Typical of most skate shops, Newt and Harold’s makes less profit on hardgoods than shoes and softgoods, with a hardgoods profit margin ranging between 35 and 40 percent.

The shop is financed solely by Wright and Ambur. “Through the ages we’ve had to take a loan out to buy equipment,” says Wright, “but right now we’re self-sufficient. We own the property, and we’re paying that off. We did a big remodel about three years ago, and at that point we bought a chunk of property here.”

Wright admits that she probably doesn?t check the shop’s financial statements as much as she should. “I seriously sit down about twice a year and look at them in detail. But about once a month I look at them in lesser detail.” The main financial factor that Wright watches in the shop to determine what’s going on is the level of inventory at present compared to a year before and profit margins. “The bottom line, of course, that I need to keep an eye on is net income,” she says, adding, “I think skateboarding and snowboarding for us have all grown up together, and they’re still growing. Not quite as rapidly as they were five years ago, but they’re still growing–it’s a growth industry, and I feel lucky.

“My advertising budget is three percent of our gross income. I’ve pretty much stuck with that formula. So as we’ve grown, our budget has grown. We’ve constantly sought ways to do things better and be organized.”

“More parents and younger kids are coming in now than before,” says Wright. Pausing, she laughs and adds, “At Christmastime it’s amazing to see grandparents coming in with their grandkids to buy skateboards.”

Wright isn’t shy to admit that they’ve made some mistakes over the years. “Obviously, if you’re in this business, you make buying mistakes. I know I’ve made a few. One of the most important things we try to do is to hire good people, train them well, and treat them like we want to be treated. That seems to have worked out for us, as we’re doing all right.”

Knowing what they know now about running a shop, laughing, Wright says she’d be afraid to get into this business if they had to do it all over again. “If I knew how hard it was,” she says, “I think I would have been too afraid to get into it. With the way we did it, we were in knee-deep before we knew what we were doing. So ignorance is good, I guess, in this case.”ff. We did a big remodel about three years ago, and at that point we bought a chunk of property here.”

Wright admits that she probably doesn?t check the shop’s financial statements as much as she should. “I seriously sit down about twice a year and look at them in detail. But about once a month I look at them in lesser detail.” The main financial factor that Wright watches in the shop to determine what’s going on is the level of inventory at present compared to a year before and profit margins. “The bottom line, of course, that I need to keep an eye on is net income,” she says, adding, “I think skateboarding and snowboarding for us have all grown up together, and they’re still growing. Not quite as rapidly as they were five years ago, but they’re still growing–it’s a growth industry, and I feel lucky.

“My advertising budget is three percent of our gross income. I’ve pretty much stuck with that formula. So as we’ve grown, our budget has grown. We’ve constantly sought ways to do things better and be organized.”

“More parents and younger kids are coming in now than before,” says Wright. Pausing, she laughs and adds, “At Christmastime it’s amazing to see grandparents coming in with their grandkids to buy skateboards.”

Wright isn’t shy to admit that they’ve made some mistakes over the years. “Obviously, if you’re in this business, you make buying mistakes. I know I’ve made a few. One of the most important things we try to do is to hire good people, train them well, and treat them like we want to be treated. That seems to have worked out for us, as we’re doing all right.”

Knowing what they know now about running a shop, laughing, Wright says she’d be afraid to get into this business if they had to do it all over again. “If I knew how hard it was,” she says, “I think I would have been too afraid to get into it. With the way we did it, we were in knee-deep before we knew what we were doing. So ignorance is good, I guess, in this case.”