CRAIG — 2020 was an interesting year for small businesses across Montana. For Chris Strainer, owner of Cross Currents Fly Shop in Helena and in Craig, that remained true. In March, Strainer noted the pandemic made him wonder what the year had in store for him and his employees.
With the season in the rear view mirror, Strainer believes they came out on top.
"Here in Craig, on the Missouri, it was the perfect storm. As far as numbers of people showing up in magnitudes we wouldn't have imagined," said Strainer recounting the first weekend after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. "That first week was overwhelming for I think all the businesses in Craig, and along the river, that had anything to do with floating, fishing, being outdoors."
But with the season in the rear view, and Montana in the dead heat of winter, things for Strainer and his staff have slowed down considerably. Instead of guiding or doing in person retail, and they're planning for next season and running the mail order side of the business.
"That's the bulk of our sales. We still have people coming in, you know we had a mild early month in January. There's quite a few people out fishing, including ourselves, so there's a little bit of retail that way, but you know not selling as many rods in the winter to locals," said Strainer.
The winter months are also a time for people to tie, or learn to tie, their own flies to try and catch fish with in the Spring and Summer. Strainer said his shop in Helena will normally host a fly-tying lesson, but unfortunately had to cancel it due to an inability to adequately socially distance.
"Everything's kind of shifted online. So, lots of videos on learning. People are doing doing that, but they've never done fly-tying before that are experiencing it. We're not doing our classes, which is kind of disappointing, because you can't ask YouTube a question, but we certainly, people come in and ask questions and we help them out," said Strainer.
Despite pulling away from 2020 relatively unscathed, Strainer said he hopes having to operate his business amidst a pandemic was a once in a lifetime experience.