Trisha Kenney could not have foreseen the path of her life’s journey. A Grand Junction native, so smart and normal, Sen. Bill Armstrong nominated her as a candidate to the U.S. Air Force Academy.
She graduated Grand Junction High in May, 1983 and started the Academy on July 6. “A day that will live in infamy for me,” she exclaimed. She was hazed and she had to cut off all her hair. But Kenney persevered as she does with everything in her life. She graduated with a degree in astronautic engineering (like aeronautical engineering but dealing with space) “I worked on satellites,” she said. After the Academy you serve five years to pay for your education. She and her husband Tim lived in Los Angeles during that time, he studying landscape architecture; she working on satellites. When she got out of the Air Force they weren’t ready to leave the area and spent several more years in San Diego.
“In 2003 when we did sell our house in San Diego, it had appreciated a lot,” she recalled. “We wanted to raise our kids in a small town as we had been raised. So we bought land and a beautiful little farm house, on the river south of town, very idyllic.” It was their dream property and they knew they were never going to want to sell it. So they decided to invest in more real estate that they could sell down the road.
The Kenneys found and purchased a commercial building that would become Downtown Merchantile, at 309 E. Main St. “I always loved old buildings and thought this was perfect,” she said. “Classy Closets was in here at the time and we assumed we’d just be landlords. And we were—with Classy Closets and Gigi Ann’s and then Belly’s restaurant and bar. Belly’s took over Gigi Ann’s space and proceeded to go out of business in 2011. But the space was difficult to rent. “There was no way that someone was going to move in here in 2011 Montrose,” Kenney said.
It was a hard year for Kenney and her family. Her husband, Tim, was deployed for a year to Afghanistan. Kenney asked her very clever daughter, Emily, a senior at MHS, what she should do about the empty building. Businesses were shutting down, right and left, on Main Street. “The only businesses thriving were thrift stores because they didn’t have to buy their inventory.”
It was Emily’s suggestion to split it all up and give everybody a little piece of that overhead. “One of the benefits that we didn’t foresee is that if someone does leave, it doesn’t really matter because you don’t have all your eggs in one basket. And it might be vacant for a couple of months. It’s not going to kill you because they’ve just got a little egg in the basket.”
Everyone pays the same rent per square foot, $1.56. There are 25 spaces, some have half a space, others a space and a half. But the average space is 12 x 8 or 96 square feet for $150. “We’re always looking for new vendors because we never know when someone is going to move out,” she said.
They are not a co-op. “We run the store, we collect the money, we pay the sales tax,” she explained. She describes Downtown Mercantile as a store that’s really supportive of new vendors. They welcome first time vendors and will help them.
Rose Blacker manages the shops. “She has been with us from the start,” Kenney explained. “I will either close the business or sell it when she leaves. She’s
the serendipity for me out of the whole thing. She’s become someone I really look up to.”
Kenney’s days are filled. “We also own the upstairs of the building. We have people living up there in 12 studios. Some weeks that doesn’t entail much, other weeks it makes me very busy. She has someone who cleans, but she says ‘when you’re a landlord you do everything.’
The recession is a common thread in this story. The upstairs was rented as offices when they bought the building. But people starting asking her if they could live up there. “There is no affordable housing for people who are down on their luck in Montrose—who don’t have first, last, and a deposit, credit, references. “Upstairs is something that it’s very clear that I just have to do.”
Trish and Tim met while she was in college. “He came out for his sister’s wedding and it was love at first sight.” They’ve been married 28 years and have four children, 24, 23, 19 and 8, three girls and a boy. The eldest one is a nurse in Denver, just graduated from Regis University; the second one is just graduating for CSU in Fort Collins, hoping to go to vet school; the third is a sophomore in college in San Diego; and the eight-year-old goes to Cottonwood Elementary.
The family is very involved with the Wounded Warriors in Montrose. “We volunteered to put eight guys up on our ranch and Tim rowed them down the Gunnison Gorge. It’s the best thing we do”
The Kenneys know personally the dangers of being deployed. Tim got blown up by a rocket propelled grenade. “There were many things he couldn’t do when he returned. We opened the “Orvis endorsed Toad Fly Fishing” shop on the east side of the Mercantile building, but he couldn’t stand sitting, he couldn’t sequence numbers, he had no short-term memory.”
It’s taken a few years to sort things out. But as it turns out, he could take people fly fishing. He loves to teach people fly fishing. “I had someone come in who didn’t know I was his wife who said he was the best fly fishing guide he’d ever had,” Kenney said with an ear-to-ear grin. “So we hired someone to manage the shop.”
On the recreation side, Kenney says that she loves to go to the movies with her husband. In five years she’d like to maybe have a grandchild. She loves spending time with her family. And last, but not at the bottom of her thoughts, she’s thinking of going back to school and getting her master’s degree.
Kenney misses using her math/science brain. “I do miss using that part of my brain, so I started tutoring kids for the ACT. I had worked for admissions for the Academy for the first five years we lived here, doing all of Western Colorado’s admissions. I started seeing this big lack in the kids’ ACT scores.” It’s fun for her and keeps her sharp. She gives workshops in her office space in the Mercantile.
The Kenneys have a story that might fill three family saga novels. But they’re real and they’re vibrant, giving of themselves, loving others and caring for each other.