Helena High students hoping to learn the art of running a business received a big boost to start the year.
The Catty Shack, a small student store in the middle of one of the school’s busiest hallways, has doubled in size and features an added concession window to an outdoor patio, thanks to a $3,000 grant. The money, which was donated by NorthWestern Energy, was selected through the Helena Education Foundation Great Idea Grant Program. The group held a grand opening ceremony Thursday night.
The added space and ability to meet the demands of the customers has been a relief for the store’s workers.
“Last year it would be so busy and so tight, it was hard trying to get food out of such a small space,” said George Gold, a 17-year-old junior and one of the store’s managers. “It’s easier for us and for our customers.”
It’s also teaching the students a little something about business. In this case, what it takes to expand to meet demand while many others are contracting in a turbulent economy.
“The biggest thing is this is real-life learning,” said Willie Schlepp, who teaches business classes at Helena High. “Learning the concepts of marketing, advertising and customer service, it’s all fine and dandy, but it takes what they’re learning in the classroom and applying it.”
The students helped write the grant to start the process and wrote thank-you cards afterward.
Now they’re watching as more of their peers — along with faculty and staff — make their way to the store.
Two lines now run through the busy hallway that is not far from the main office and close to doors outside. Customers get quicker access to items ranging from muffins and Bagel Company bagels to pizza by Costco or Mikey’s in East Helena.
While there are the usual sodas, juices and other drinks from major distributors, most of the food is purchased from local businesses to help build community involvement, Schlepp said.
“It’s hard to tell right now, but we’re busier than ever,” said Jessie Campbell, a 17-year-old senior in her second year working the store. She was working in the store’s new expansion Thursday as the afternoon rush hit.
The store is open for roughly an hour in the morning before school, then a half hour at lunch.
Gold said that with the faster service students aren’t turning away because of long lines. Instead, they’re sticking around for the daily specials.
Those working the store, meanwhile, are learning that taking iniative and meeting customer needs can make a business grow.
“It’s nice to know you can make improvements,” Gold said. “We can do things if we want to.”
Jeff Windmueller: 447-4005 or email@example.com