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'It's vital:' New home sought for giving tree as Billings business closes

Pawlowski with Giving tree
Posted at 5:56 PM, Apr 10, 2024

BILLINGS - For the past five years, Liberty & Vine Country Store in downtown Billings has hosted a giving tree around the holidays, where community members could drop off donations for those battling cancer.

But now, the shop is closing its doors, and owner Amy Pawlowski is searching for a new place to host their tradition.

To fully understand why the giving tree means so much to Pawlowski, it's helpful to get a better sense of the business's roots.

Liberty & Vine offered customers a two-for-one experience, where they could purchase resale antiques or new goods brought in by vendors. The store had room for 30 booths, where vendors could come in and sell their goods.

"Our main focus of our store was decor and home goods," Pawlowski said. "They were one-of-a-kind items that were meaningful gifts and meaningful things to take home for yourself."

That unique setup is a big reason was a draw for the store in Billings, and Pawlowski attributed much of the store's success to their dedicated vendors. Among those was Sherri Johnson, who made large angels out of scrap metal.

"We had a mix from the old and the new and I think that appealed to a lot of people," Pawlowski said. "Liberty & Vine is popular because the things Sherri made were popular."

Pawlowski said that Johnson's booth was among the most visited in the store. But in 2019, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the angels became more popular.

"Those angels flew out of the store because people realized that they weren't going to be an option in a year or so," Pawlowski said.

On the day Johnson died, Pawlowski bought an angel from her. It happened to be the last one she made and was placed on a Christmas tree.

"I wanted one for the store," Pawlowski said. "I can't put it into words. It's vital."

Since then, that tree, which has a picture of Johnson at the top, has become an annual staple at the establishment. Liberty & Vine partnered with the Frontier Cancer Center, which got them in touch with patients, asking for their one wish.

Those wishes were placed on the tree each year as ornaments, and community members could grab them and deliver the wish back to the store in time for the holidays. Pawlowski said the giving tree was a hit from the start.

"That first year we had so many ornaments on the tree," Pawlowski said. "They were all gone by the end of the first day. It was wonderful. Reading those gifts and what people wanted was very fulfilling."

Among those helped by the tree was Billings resident Shelle Greene, who was given a gift during her battle with stage four throat cancer.

"It was very emotional to have people... sorry," Greene said between tears. "People care for you enough that they would do that for you."

The gesture was so impactful for Greene that she returned a year later to return the favor.

"I chose somebody off the tree," Greene said. "I wanted to return the gift and the prayer. It wasn't about the gift, it was just the fact that someone is thinking about you during a difficult time."

But now, with Pawlowski set to retire, Liberty & Vine is closing its doors. Pawlowski has been actively searching for a business to carry on the tradition of the giving tree and said she isn't worried that someone in Billings will step up.

"I believe it'll happen," Pawlowski said. "I'm never surprised at the spirit of our community when it comes to taking care of each other."

It's a tradition Pawlowski cares a lot for and one that honors someone who meant a lot to her.

"It's pretty cool that this tree lives on the way Sherri did," Pawlowski said. "She lived her life to help people until the end and that's how this tree is as well."