November 19, 2017 at 5:00 am | By PATRICK REILLY Daily Inter Lake
A recent Tuesday morning found William B.J. Lupton at his desk on the second floor of Snappy Sports Senter, reminiscing about the business’ long history in the Flathead Valley.
The green-and-white sporting-goods store at the junction of U.S. 2 and Montana 35 in Evergreen is marking its 70th anniversary this year, and it’s been led by a Lupton since Day One.
B.J.’s father, Verne, co-founded Snappy’s in 1947, and he bought the business from his father 30 years later.
The family’s roots run deep here.
“I’m a Flathead County boy,” he told the Daily Inter Lake, remembering how he had reached this role. “I graduated from Flathead High in 1965, [then] went to Whitworth University in Spokane.”
Life after college took him to the Navy’s Officer Candidate School and four years on active duty, then to serious consideration of a career in environmental biology. But when he came back to Montana for graduate school, he started working at Snappy’s.
“I bought the business from him in 1977...so here we are now, 40-plus years later, serving our community.”
Lupton has lined the shelves and filled the cabinets of his second-floor office with various tokens of service, from U.S. Navy ship models and baseball caps to trumpets collected by this performing jazz musician.
And he closely links Snappy’s itself with his work to improve the community.
“The heart of Snappy’s is serving and giving, not taking.”
The ways it carries out that mission have changed over the years. Snappy’s started out as a gas station and general store, expanding into hardware and groceries. As the Daily Inter Lake reported in 2007, B.J. decided to focus on sporting goods, and twice expanded the store to reach its current, 30,000-square-foot size.
He’s also added some unique amenities, such as fish ponds, a gallery showcasing local artwork, and last year, a webcam-equipped osprey perch.
But he describes Snappy’s as “basically a traditional full-line sporting-goods store, although our major features are fishing, hunting and shooting sports, camping, water sports, that kind of thing...sports afield would be a good way to put it.”
In Northwest Montana, that has proven to be a successful niche. It’s also given Lupton a window on the region’s values.
“We’re seeing a radical change in culture, and I think it’s an exponential change,” he said.
Standing amid his store’s coat and sock racks, he remembers that, in his student days, “the teacher said, ‘hey boys, how many are going hunting with their dad this year?’ And if there were 30 kids in the class, and 16 were boys, 12 raised their hands.”
“Now, only one or two go hunting with their dad. They’re all on their cellphones, and on their gadgets, and on their games. They’re not out in the field with their father, or their uncle, or their grandpa.”
Lupton finds that trend concerning, and not just for business reasons. “There’s something remarkably invaluable about human contact, and human relationship, I believe, and that’s what I want Snappy’s to be. If Snappy’s loses our ability to have human contact, we’ll shut it down.
“I believe God put me on this earth to give, not to take,” he continued. Looking at the iPhone recording the interview, he said, “I think these things enhance taking, and don’t do much to promote giving.”
These problems, and the prospect of Snappy’s going away, seemed remote as he spoke with the Daily Inter Lake on Halloween. Lupton was interrupted when Bob Stephens, secretary and treasurer of the Montana State Elks Association, came in to take the final drawing in his group’s “31 guns in 31 days” October raffle.
Proceeds from ticket sales, Stephens said, will fund the group’s work on behalf of veterans and youth. It’s one of many charitable activities that Lupton has aided over the years. Others range from partnerships with groups like the Boy Scouts and Salvation Army, to collecting fish for rescued eagle chicks.
The business that funds this work – supplying Montana’s outdoorsmen and women – has its challenges, he acknowledged. Like many other area businesses, he got singed by this year’s fire season. “You bet it affected our business,” by about 20 to 30 percent, he estimated.
Looking ahead, Lupton said he’s “gotta figure out e-commerce, and be the qualified brick-and-mortar store serving our community.”
Overall, Lupton is confident Snappy’s will retain that role. Now in his 70s, he’s eying retirement, and plans for his son, Jon, to soon take his place at the store’s helm.
“My plans, my hope, my dream, my prayer, is that Snappy’s will be serving our community for the next 20 to 50 years,” Lupton reflected. “I want to leave this store behind, I’m not taking anything out of it, I’m leaving it behind for the community.”
Reporter Patrick Reilly may be reached at 758-4407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.