KOOTENAI COUNTY, Idaho — In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, a North Idaho real estate agent has added a unique element to a billboard of his that's visible off of Highway 41 north of Post Falls.

Gary Schmidt, a realtor with Coldwell Banker Schneidmiller Realty, has become known to drivers along the busy highway for his large advertisement featuring a photo of Schmidt accompanied with a unique hat or object atop of his head to mark holidays and seasons.

Currently, Schmidt's billboard features the realtor and father wearing a medical face mask.

"Crisis will bring out the worst in people as well as the best. I choose to dwell on the best," said Schmidt on Monday. "I think you always have to approach anything with a little bit of levity."

A couple of weeks ago, Schmidt contacted a man who makes the sign pieces for him and asked for a custom-made face mask that would fit the billboard's dimensions.

"The idea was sort of to put the mask on to say that we all should be doing our part and it's not that hard to do," Schmidt explained.

Gary Schmidt billboard off Highway 41
Gary Schmidt billboard off Highway 41

The realtor said he's had the billboard, which is located on the eastern side of Highway 41 just South of Prairie Avenue, since 2006. About a decade ago, Schmidt started putting different hats on his photo on the billboard in an effort to drum up more interest.

"The Thanksgiving/pilgrim hat was my first one. Then a Santa Claus hat," he said. 

Other hats over the year include bunny ears around Easter, a winter cap and ski goggles, and an apple to mark back-to-school in September.

"It wasn't until I put a hat on it that anybody noticed it, really," said Schmidt, explaining that he receives more inquiries from the unique billboard than traditional advertisements.

Schmidt said the addition of the face mask to the billboard amid the coronavirus outbreak was twofold: it reminds drivers to stay healthy and to stay positive about the situation and honors healthcare workers.

"And those on the front line: a tip of the mask to them. Because they're the ones keeping this thing in check," Schmidt said.

Schmidt added that feedback to the mask has been positive.

The realtor said he currently has about a dozen different hats and objects to reflect the changing seasons. With a highway-widening project slated to start next year, Schmidt said he has a construction cone hat ready to add into the mix.

When asked how many different hats and accessories he'd potentially add to the billboard, the realtor jokingly replied, "That's almost a secret. You've got to keep driving by and check it out."

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