Trying to have a chat with Jim and Linda Link isn't easy. Even on a quiet weekday afternoon their business, Paonia Farm and Home, is bustling with activity. Despite the downturn in the economy, they are experiencing one of their best years since opening in the early 1980s.
The Links were selected as 2016 Cherry Days grand marshals. "Jim and Linda are incredible, amazing and awesome," said customer Jaylene Parks while picking up gardening and electrical supplies. "We're lucky to have them."
Jim and Linda both grew up in Denver but met and were married in Breckenridge. "We were involved in the ski industry there," said Linda between customers. After Jim was injured, "It wasn't fun anymore," she said. "It was just work."
In 1979 they planted new roots in the tiny agricultural and coal-mining community of Paonia. Their sons, Matt and Mike, were in kindergarten and second grade.
In 1983, the Links purchased Paonia Farm and Home Supply, then located in one third of the High Country News building. At the time the store specialized in selling feed and paint. But after Howard's Cash Hardware at 228 Grand went out of business, "We decided, let's take on hardware," said Linda. They moved to their current Grand Avenue location in about 1986.
"I like the small community life," says Linda. They also enjoy the beauty of the area, and especially their hobby: organic gardening. They raise a big garden, cows and chickens on their 32-acre farm outside of town. "That's our real passion, helping other people farm and garden organically," she said. Every day they help customers solve their gardening problems, from weeding and fertilizing to pack rats and wasps.
To meet the needs of the many new people coming to the area with an interest in growing their own organic food, four years ago they opened a sister store specializing in organic gardening products. They carry local products including Paonia Soil and Root Wise. "It's fun to be able to support our local people," said Linda.
They have a knowledgeable staff of five and five seasonal employees. "We just have great employees," said Linda. "That is one of the biggest blessings of running this business all these years." They're also very local, she says. Paonia native Tim Schneider has been with them since the beginning, Dan Chisholm retired about three years ago after 22 years, and Dan's son, Joe, has worked for them since high school.
Working at the store is very rewarding, says Jim, who has more of an accounting-type brain, while Linda is the people person. Between them they can track thousands if inventory items and enjoy conversing with the people. The Links take their vacations in small doses, and transition quickly from the slowest month of the year in February to the busiest month in May. Because work is seasonal, they have time to enjoy their home, the country, and their three grandkids, who will be in town for Cherry Days.
Jim said one of the things he loves most about Paonia is the beauty of the area. "Almost everywhere in the valley has a nice view," he said.