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Billings Gazette, Mont., Jan Falstad column

By Jan Falstad, Billings Gazette, Mont.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

March 09--Sarah Breitenstein, a Billings native and one of the few female goldsmiths, has purchased Emerson Jewelry at 2913 Third Ave. N.

She has renamed the store Big Sky Jewelry Designers and will continue to offer custom jewelry design, repair and watch repair services.

That's where her dad, Gary Grocholski, comes in.

Sarah's father is a certified master watchmaker with 35 years' experience. That certification, granted by The American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute, is increasingly rare. Grocholski is one of 56 certified master watchmakers in the U.S.

"If you have an antique pocket watch you want to hand down to your son or grandson, he's one of the few who can fix it and find parts that aren't made anymore," Breitenstein said.

By following her father around to jewelry stores, Breitenstein grew up watching metal working, almost exclusively a male profession.

"It's amazing because there are so few female goldsmiths sitting at a bench with a torch, working gold and platinum," she said.

She is buying the store from Gary and Deb Luton, who are retiring after two decades of operating Emerson Jewelry.

Breitenstein earned an English degree in creative writing and literature from the University of Montana. Then she worked as a park ranger at Mount Hood in Oregon, where she took metal smithing classes at night.

She continued her education by working for a decade with Debbie Meyers at Buffalo Chips and occasionally turning to Gary Luton

for tips. Breitenstein wants to bring one-of-a-kind jewelry and more unusual gemstones to Billings, plus design her own jewelry.

"My vision is a little smaller, a little more intimate, maybe more European," she said.

Her dad will work at Big Sky Jewelry Designers on Thursdays and he is willing to make a certain sacrifice for his daughter.

"This is an amazing thing because he never wanted to work with the public for anyone else," she said. "Yea for Dad!"

Cheers for Chico

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Chico Hot Springs, a century-old play place for Montanans, has gotten some steaming hot national press lately.

Travel + Leisure magazine gave Chico five pages of promotional winter coverage, including praise for the Absaroka Dogsled Treks. The "Cozy Montana vacations" special also handed Red Lodge two thumbs up, mentioned The Pollard Hotel and said that Red Lodge Mountain has "one of the oldest continuously operating ski clubs in America."

The author, Reggie Nadelson, said he's a city slicker through and through, but claims to love coming here.

"Montana is the very meaning of getting away, of what the French call depaysement," he said.

Finally, Northwest Travel Magazine rated Chico as the best of nine top wedding destinations. The article also featured a wedding photo shot at Chico by Montana photographer Larry Stanley.

Out and about

The first grocery store at West Park Promenade in more than a decade opens March 12.

The newly formed Colorado chain called Lucky's Market is opening its first natural and specialty grocery in Montana with a bacon-cutting ceremony. That's apparently a porcine pun on the ribbon-cutting cliche. The owners also are giving away $5,000 to local charities.

Also, if you want to buy flood insurance to protect your property following what may be record snowfall this winter, now is the time. Montana Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen said flood insurance policies don't take effect for 30 days, so plan ahead.

The correct date for Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative's annual meeting is Thursday, March 27.

New oil play

Another Oklahoma company plans on drilling a wildcat well about 21 miles southwest of Lewistown. Tulsa-based Minuteman Exploration said it plans on drilling three shallow wells probing the Heath shale formation underneath Fergus County, according to The Rocky Mountain Oil Journal.

By the numbers

1: Rank of North Dakota's economy in the nation, thanks to a strong agricultural economy and a monster energy boom. By 2018, median household income is projected to be between $68,001 and $77,158 in Williams County, according to SNL Financial. Williams borders the Montana state line and Williston is the county seat.

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75: The percentage of Americans surveyed this year by the Pew Research Center who said college has become too expensive. That said, 91 percent of those who have graduated said their education was a good investment. Workers with a high school diploma earn 62 percent as much as a typical college graduate, a gap that is increasing.

$60 million: Amount Facebook's chief executive Mark Zuckerberg is apparently willing to pay for Titan Aerospace, which makes drones. The story by TechCrunch said Zuckerberg wants to use drones like cheap satellites. The drones can hover for up to five years and provide wireless Internet to remote rural areas.

Scams du jour

The Billings Chamber of Commerce fielded nearly 20 calls in the last month about a "cheap car" scam that can quickly empty bank accounts.

A company calling itself "Billings-United" is promising a "too-cheap-to-be-true" car deal. The "seller" asks you to wire $25,000 and promises to "hold" your money until your car is shipped from Phoenix.

Some people just can't be convinced that the heavily discounted car deal is a scam, said the Chamber's Rene Beyl.

"They can only see the screaming deal," she said.

These scammers use Craigslist to send instructions about wiring the money. Remember money that is wired is virtually untraceable and unrecoverable.

By the way, "Billings-United" claims it has an office at 316 N. 26th St. But that is the empty, asbestos-challenged former James F. Battin federal courthouse now renamed the Kono Building. Kono Corp. is a subsidiary of the Colorado Tire Corp. of Tacoma, Wash., which purchased the former courthouse last May during a federal auction.

The Better Business Bureau in Spokane, Wash., which represents Montana, said it has received one report about Billings-United. The scam is similar to one involving trucks that hit Helena in November, the BBB said.

Meanwhile, this is National Consumer Protection week.

In 2012, the BBB said social media scams stole money and identities from 11 million Americans. The three most common rip-offs are tax refund fraud, medical identity theft and credit or debit card fraud. To read more about protecting your personal data, go to: www.bbb.org.

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Laugh lines

A man walks into a barbershop and asks "How much for a haircut and a shave?"

"Well, it is $12 for the haircut," said the barber. "And $10 for a shave."

As the man settles into the chair, he said, "All right. Shave my head."

___

(c)2014 the Billings Gazette (Billings, Mont.)

Visit the Billings Gazette (Billings, Mont.) at www.billingsgazette.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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