Linda Brooks, owner and founder of SOMETHINGchic
Determined—that is the word Linda Brooks believes others would use to describe her. An operating room nurse by trade, she won Battle of the Plans in 2017 and started a business that embraced her lifelong love of fashion.
Hosted by Downtown Billings Alliance and Big Sky Economic Development, Battle of the Plans is a business competition striving to further enrich the downtown area. Linda’s women’s clothing store, SOMETHINGchic, carries modern, contemporary retail catering to every budget. Her dedication to customer service and penchant for cute clothing have brought her a renewed sense of joy in her blossoming, new career.
Even before beginning her path into entrepreneurship, Linda sensed the pulse of untapped opportunity available in Billings.
“I grew up in Big Sandy, Montana,” she recounts. “I first moved to Billings for college and lived here primarily for that reason. When my husband and I left Boston and decided on a place to settle down, we chose Billings for all it had to offer in job opportunities and quality of life.”
When asked what she would do if granted financial independence, Linda is bursting with ideas.
“Oh gosh, where do I begin? I’d still run my business, start my other business ideas, go on surgical missions trips and utilize my OR nursing skills, fund and be involved with nonprofits that help women with style and fashion, revitalize buildings in downtown, be an angel investor so others can start their own business, and so much more.”
Although she has followed two impressive career paths, Linda feels her defining moment came in the form of love.
“It sounds cheesy, but when I first started dating my husband,” she says, referring to a turning point in her life, “we knew that was it for both of us, and my life changed for the better.”
Linda enjoys spending time with her husband, their dog, her girlfriends and her family.
“I’m happiest when I’m with the people I love.”
She also holds a deep affection for the state she calls home, preferring the dramatic landscapes of Big Sky Country to the beach or the mountains.
“I love the wide-open plains of Montana, the 180-degree horizons, the sky as big as it could possibly be. It’s majestic to me.”
Nick Blake, owner of Desmonds Store for Men
“Love doesn’t pay the bills,” states Nick Blake, repeating his favorite quote. “Whether it is wife, kids, or business, you have to work and be aware of your surroundings.”
Any small business owner will attest that hard work is imperative in order to achieve success. For 29 years, Nick has operated Desmonds Store For Men, a venture that has garnered him much admiration and recognition within the city. He is not afraid of hard work.
Originally from the small town of Rudyard, Montana, Nick moved to Billings in 1990 to assist in the liquidation of the Hart-Albin department store. It was at this time that he decided to stay in Billings and open his own clothing retailer. Desmonds was founded in the former Hart-Albin location, eventually moving to 2819 Second Ave. N., where it has remained for 16 years. Nick considers buying Desmonds the decisive “turning point” in his life.
If granted financial independence, Nick says he would like to travel, be more active with local charities and golf a little more. Although he doesn’t have a go-to joke (at least not that is printable), he does like to quip one-liners from some of his favorite movies, such as Fletch and Planes, Trains and Automobiles, in order to lighten the mood.
Between the beach and the mountains, Nick harbors a special love for the mountains stemming from his childhood.
“Growing up on the Hi-Line, we were close to Glacier National Park and took annual trips there and also to the Little Belt Mountains.”
One of his most memorable experiences occurred in Wisconsin, at a particularly iconic stadium.
“I went to a Packers game a few years back and had the privilege of sitting in a suite at Lambeau Field, and by happenstance met the Packers’ president/CEO as well as former quarterback Don Majkowski while at the game.”
Nick believes those who know him would describe him as “loyal” above all else, and he cherishes his time with family.
“My kids are home; I am drinking a glass of wine while listening to music and trying to help my wife cook,” he muses, describing himself at his happiest.
Kirsten Harper, owner of South Harper
Kirsten Harper adores her home state. She has spent her life in Billings, with the exception of the years spanning from eighth grade through high school when she moved to Columbus.
“I love all things Montana—from the friendly and hard-working people to the beauty of the state,” she says. “I’ll always be a small-town girl.”
As the owner of South Harper, a women’s boutique at Shiloh Crossing, she is able to interact and serve the community she loves each day.
“I get to shop for a living and help people find super cool things to add to their closet,” Kirsten says.
Her dedication to becoming a small business owner relates to her favorite quote, a bit of wisdom from Kevin Ngo.
“If you don’t make the time to work on creating the life you want, you’re eventually going to be forced to spend a lot of time dealing with a life you don’t want.”
Kirsten believes one word others would use to describe her is “passionate.”
“Or stubborn,” she adds with a wink, “depending on the situation or interpretation.” If faced with a tense or awkward moment, she often uses her dry sense of humor or a self-deprecating joke to lighten the mood.
The turning point in her life came well into adulthood, in the form of a decision reflecting both courage and resolve.
“I’ve had many ‘life events’ that I can say affected me, whether positive or negative, but the biggest is when I decided to quit drinking,” Kirsten says. “Most people can drink and not let it affect their lives—I’m not one of those people. Deciding that enough was enough was not only a turning point but the best thing that I’ve ever done for myself.”
Kirsten enjoys traveling, and if given the means to be financially independent, she would do so often.
“I don’t care if it would be traveling abroad or traveling across the country in a camper,” she says. “I love to see and experience new places.”
If given the choice between city and country, she prefers the country, as small towns seem to resonate more deeply for her.
Yet, the best times for Kirsten are rooted in those she loves.
“I am happiest when I’m spending time with my family,” she says, “and my friends aren’t so bad either.”
Denice Johnson, owner of Neecee’s
“I absolutely love the beach,” Denice Johnson says. “I went to high school in Puerto Rico and love to boogie board. I also love to just look out at the water and dream.”
Although she has lived in Billings with her husband, Marc, for nearly three decades, the beginning of Denice’s life was characterized by change.
“When I was 28 and pregnant with our second child, I had the opportunity to share my story with a group of women,” she recounts. “I realized then that I had made 31 major moves by the time I was 28. … We were living in OKC at the time, and I felt the Lord share with me that this was going to be different. This would be a time in my life when I would set down deep roots in relationships. It was so true … four children and 12 years later, I realized that I had developed a totally different type of friendship there. It was rich and wonderful.”
Her husband was offered a job that eventually brought them to Montana. They have lived in Billings for 27 years.
“What better place to raise five children?” she remarks. “Each one is so unique, and life in Billings was and continues to be good to them. They are a gift to us. We now have 10 grandchildren, and it just keeps getting better.”
Denice and Marc have been married for 42 years, and their love story is one for the ages. They met in eighth grade in New Mexico, but Denice ended up moving at the end of the school year to Texas, then Puerto Rico, Illinois and Washington. When she finally returned to New Mexico, she was 20 years old.
“I met up with Marc again,” Denice recalls, “and we had a rocky dating relationship, worked through it, got married and have had the best adventure. … I wouldn’t change a thing. I believe the best is still to come.”
As a self-described “storyteller,” Denice has no shortage of advice or humor to add to the conversation.
“When I was younger, my friends said I had a Rolodex instead of a brain—if you can remember what those are in this computer age! This was because any topic that would be brought up, I could find a story from real life to share. I like to find the humorous in the everyday life of being a mom, store owner and wife.”
Her favorite quote, Psalm 116: 1-2, led her to a turning point that would define the course of her life thereafter.
“I love the Lord, because He hears my voice; He hears my cry for mercy. Because He turned His ear to me, I will call upon Him all the days of my life.”
“The Lord used that in my life during a very dark time when I was 19 years old. I needed to know He really heard me and I wasn’t talking into space and pretending a higher power was there. He led me to that verse, and He changed my life!”
Now, as the owner of Neecee’s, she feels blessed to work with an amazing group of women who share her passion for helping others find stylish apparel and accessories.
“I love change, and I love encouraging women,” Denice says. “I love the store to feel like you are at a party. I love going to market with our customers in mind and being on the hunt to find the next new trend and bring it back to Billings and share it with them.”
If granted 100% financial freedom, she believes she would use her means to help women earn money creating jewelry and clothing out of their own homes, mirroring her own business beginnings in Oklahoma.
“I designed and made clothing in my home and sold them at juried art shows. This way I was home with my family but helping bring in an income.”
Overall, Denice is happiest when she is with her family.
“They are so much fun!” she exclaims. “It is chaotic with five adult children, two sons-in-law, two daughters-in-law, and 10 grandchildren, but I love it! They continually make me laugh. I will always be rich because of them.”