The Garden Company raises its self-improvement profile in Sandpoint
The Garden Company of Sandpoint has nothing to do with gardens.
Instead, it helps people grow their inner selves.
The company has been based out of Sandpoint for more than 20 years. Yet many residents have never heard of it because it’s done most of its “self-discovery” workshops in bigger cities such as Denver, Austin and Seattle.
But this year and next, The Garden Company will offer more than half of its workshops in Sandpoint. Plus, it will charge Bonner County residents half the regular fee, as a way to help the community, spiritually and financially.
The small, seven-person business enterprise fits well in Sandpoint – and Bonner County.
The area has long attracted businesses that fuse the talents of local people with those of outsiders. That has allowed traditional businesses to thrive alongside more artsy and creative endeavors.
Said Karl Dye, executive director of the Bonner County Economic Development Corporation: “Not knowing the folks who own The Garden Company, my guess is that a company that is a self-help-seminar-type company would be attracted to Sandpoint, because we attract that kind of person interested in self-improvement.”
The Garden Company offices are – just coincidentally – located next to the Sandpoint Community Garden.
The office dog, Zoe, greets visitors with a bark, then relaxes under the desk of Cyndi Goerig, director of program development. Ceilings are high, the windows plentiful. Light streams in.
In this space, 30 people will gather next Thursday through Sunday for a workshop known as the “Mountain Experience.”
It’s nearly impossible to explain the various workshops offered by The Garden Company, because the descriptions reside in the abstract. Here’s one promo for the upcoming workshop:
“At Mountain Experience, you will: Create a clear picture of what is and is not working in your life. Learn Sanctuary. Simply put, sanctuary means a safe setting. Learn and practice letting go of your emotional baggage. Leave the Mountain Experience with tools to communicate more effectively, lead others, support your children, create balance, love each aspect of your life more fully and make new friends.”
The Garden Company traces its roots to the 1980s, when Kendrick Mercer owned a Santa Barbara, Calif., financial consulting firm. He noticed that people’s financial woes often resulted from unexplored personal issues.
In 1988, Mercer founded The Garden Company in Sandpoint “to assist people in amplifying their aliveness,” according to his biographical sketch.
His self-empowerment techniques were considered cutting-edge two decades ago. Now they’ve pretty much gone mainstream.
Janice Lindgren, who has been with The Garden Company since 1993, cites an example. She was having dinner with a client, and someone at a nearby table asked what Lindgren did for a living.
She said: “I teach emotional awareness and letting go of emotional pain.”
The person asked: “What method?”
As a culture, Lindgren believes, “We have come a long way. That is so cool.”
Rooting more of the workshops in Sandpoint will be good for the local economy, says Kyle Mercer, who took over the company from his father in 1999.
Visitors stay in local hotels. Pend Oreille Pasta caters meals.
Participants contemplate the town’s natural beauty while pondering their inner landscape. And they have time to peruse the shops, especially if they take Goerig’s advice.
“We recommend people from out of town come in a day early or stay an extra day after,” she said. “Summer in Sandpoint – you can’t really beat it.”
In 2004, Goerig gave up a dancing career and moved to Sandpoint to work full time for The Garden Company. Her home before then? New York City.
Early in its modern history, the outside world chugged into Sandpoint via railroad. The trains carried goods and notable people.
In 1888, a future president, Theodore Roosevelt, visited Sandpoint while on a hunting trip, according to a history of the town at sandpoint.com.
The county’s most successful modern businesses thrive by mixing local employees with those recruited from larger cities. Dye mentioned several examples: Litehouse Foods produces nationally marketed salad dressings. Coldwater Creek is a national clothing business. Schweitzer Mountain Resort draws staffers and skiers from around the world.
In the early 1990s, when North Idaho was growing infamous for its Aryan Nations members and sympathizers, the Sandpoint committee that fought back was made up mostly of business people. They knew the reputation was a recruiting death knell, explained Chris Bessler, founder of Keokee Co. Publishing, who served on the committee.
Bessler hasn’t heard much about The Garden Company, but he’s not surprised a company that focuses on self-discovery is sinking deeper roots in Sandpoint.
“It’s empowering just to be in such a beautiful, natural environment,” he said.
Sandpoint business folks believe the town is well-positioned to thrive again once the recession lifts.
Before the slump, “Sandpoint was becoming known as a great small town to live in,” Dye said.
“We’ve got a strong arts community. People like Sandpoint because it has an eclectic mix of people with a wide variety of experiences and background.”
The recession prompted changes within The Garden Company. The Mountain Experience, for instance, was shortened from five days to three and a half, reflecting people’s lack of both time and money.
Bonner County residents will be able to participate in Mountain Experience for $495, half the cost charged to outsiders. (Next week’s workshop is sold out; another will run July 29-Aug. 1).
The Garden Company has about 18 workshops planned for the rest of 2010 and into 2011. Though coaches will still travel, keeping half the workshops in Sandpoint will save on expenses.
The value of saving money, and spending locally, figured into the decision for more hometown workshops. But Kyle Mercer has deeper hopes for The Garden Company’s hometown initiative.
“My vision is we can walk around town and feel unconditional goodwill to one another,” he said. “We don’t have to have too many people go through our program to start having a cultural impact.”