BLACKFOOT — There are many stories to be told about and from the Blackfoot Canvas Company.
Owner Kimberly Huffaker is able to tell those stories.
The business — located at 79 W. Idaho in Blackfoot — is in a building that was built in 1880 and has a lot of Blackfoot history behind it. As Huffaker told the story of the business, she told it in the area that once was a livery stable.
Blackfoot Canvas is in its third generation of ownership. Huffaker’s grandfather, Allen Kremer, started it in 1960. His daughter, Karen, ran it from 1980 to 1997, when Kimberly took over.
There were similar businesses in Idaho Falls to the north and Pocatello to the south when Kremer started the Blackfoot shop, which was started mainly for farmers needing canvas dams for irrigation. Blackfoot was seen as a hub between the Idaho Falls and Blackfoot canvas shops, needing a place in the middle to take business out to the desert.
Kremer started out in Rigby himself, finally moving down to Blackfoot in 1961.
“He was sleeping on the cutting tables during weekdays and going home on weekends,” Kimberly said. “He finally bought a house here in 1961.”
In the early years, Blackfoot Canvas was making over 300 dozen dams. As times changed, irrigation pipes became the way the way to go and the need changed more to aprons, then pipe went to pivot irrigation. The business still makes 35 dozen aprons.
In 1961, Blackfoot Canvas was asked to do its first tipi. Five Native American nations were brought in for a powwow, where two distinctive styles of tipis were created — the Shoshone-Bannock and the Sioux. Huffaker said there are many other styles of tipis with the only real difference being in the smoke flaps and door opening. The company will modify the style of either tipi to meet particular specifications.
Beyond tipis, tipi linings, and door coverings, the things that Blackfoot Canvas can make are vast. Just in western saddle tack alone, there are cowboy bed rolls, mantees, feed bags, chaps and aprons, western pack panniers, bags, saddle bags, meat sacks, and outerwear with slickers/dusters. They also have wall tents and accessories, sheepherder tepee tents and accessories, ground tarps, car covers, tote bags, baby jumpers, and “Kanvas for Kids” with tipis just for children.
Blackfoot Canvas has three full-time people sewing.
“We do a lot for the size that we are,” Huffaker said.
The company has a reputation that reaches far and wide. She related a story of a customer in Nebraska on their way to Arizona who went well out of their way to visit the Blackfoot business “because they wanted to see what kind of people they were dealing with.”
Huffaker said they’ve had people from five foreign countries stop in to see them — Italy, France, Japan, England, and one couple who took items with them back to Israel.
Word of mouth has done wonders for the business, she noted.
“We’re getting ready for the War Bonnet Roundup, we’ve got the Sho-Ban Festival coming up, there are a lot of things coming we need to get ready for,” Huffaker said. “People see the powwows, they see our brand on the tipis. People see our products when they’re out camping. I’ve had people approach me while out camping wanting to buy my own tent. I tell them it’s five years old, and they still wanted it. I told them they’d have to wait until I was done with it.”
The reputation comes out of the quality put into their goods, she added.
“Whatever you did, do it to your specifications. How would you want it to be built if it were you buying it?” Huffaker said. “Make it so it’ll last, make it strong enough to work with farmers and horse people. Remember, you’re a public service. Make sure you can work with your neighbors.”
Huffaker said her mother knocked down some unseen barriers in what was often known as an “old-boys club” when she ran the business, and Blackfoot Canvas is still a woman-owned business that’s gained respect from what her mother did.
“Mom had to earn her way through,” she said. “People would come in and say, ‘I want to talk to the man.’ She’d say, ‘I am the man.’ We respect everybody that walks through the door.”
Huffaker said Blackfoot Canvas products have been used in well-known films, such as the “Red River” remake and “Young Guns,” and they’ve been sold to actors in films who’ve used them.
“It’s been fun.”