Save the Missoula Mercantile Building from demolition
This petition had 2,605 supporters
The Mercantile building has been a cornerstone of Missoula’s business economy for over a century, an icon for both locals and visitors. Do not approve the developer’s request for a demolition permit.
For over 130 years, the Missoula Mercantile has served as an anchor for the Missoula downtown business district. It survived the economic panic of 1893. It advertised uniforms for soldiers in World War I. Many businesses crumbled during the Great Depression, but the Mercantile remained. When malls and suburbs pulled Missoulians away from the downtown, the Mercantile pulled them back again--first as the Bon Marche, then as Bon-Macy’s, and finally as Macy’s. For 132 years it enjoyed continual occupation. For six years it has been vacant, waiting for the next opportunity.
Missoula’s local business economy deserves every chance to flourish.
In the 1970s, construction of Southgate Mall and other shopping interests pulled both visitors and locals out of the downtown corridor. Over the last two decades, Missoula has invested heavily to reverse the trend. Now downtown is once again a bustling hub of shopping, art galleries, and local eateries.
For the last several years, Missoulians have watched the Mercantile building sit empty, waiting for Octagon Partners--the current owners--to rehabilitate and reopen the space. Every setback has frustrated locals who are eager to see the building occupied again.
The Mercantile building has the makings of greatness already. The massive space would be perfect for diversified use; a combination of small business and community services that would provide a draw for locals and tourists alike. Small businesses keep money in the local economy; they hire local, pay better than average wages, and retain a commitment to community that is sometimes lacking in corporate business decisions.
We want the Mercantile to remain representative of Missoula. It is a symbol of the businesses that built the city, yes, but it is more importantly a symbol of opportunity for the next generation of entrepreneurs and investors.
Missoula demands better building practices that promote reuse and rehabilitation over wasteful destruction.
The greenest building is the one that’s already built; demolishing the Mercantile contributes an extensive amount of materials to landfills and waste sites. It encourages a mindset of disposable, irresponsible development.
The rumors regarding structural instability of the Mercantile building are exaggerated. Structural engineers have confirmed that updates need to be made before the building is up to code, but the building is not in imminent danger of collapse. The required changes are in line with any significant remodel, and downtown is full of businesses that have successfully rehabilitated old buildings for new use. The Wilma theater, the Florence Hotel, Montgomery Distillery, and First Montana Bank are just a few of the many available examples.
In 2012, Octagon borrowed from the EPA funded Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund, a municipally run but federally mandated program designed to help rehabilitate and revitalize sites with fixable contamination. Octagon spent the money mitigating the asbestos in the building. The asbestos that remains is carefully secured in the roof; so long as it isn’t agitated, the building has no danger of asbestos contamination. If demolished, the building will have to undergo complete remediation before new construction can begin.
The building is still standing, just as it has been for nearly 140 years. We demand that demolition not become part and parcel of our downtown development.
We recognize this building is an important part of our shared history.
In 1866, Bonner and Welch built the first rendition of the Mercantile on West Front Street. There was no Missoula, not yet, but in 1887 A.B. Hammond built the current storefront to handle the rapidly expanding business. His Missoula Mercantile Company quickly established itself as an economic hub for the fledgling community and its neighbors in all directions. The business gained a reputation as an all-service department store, the largest between Seattle and Minneapolis. By the time Missoula became a town, it owed much of it’s success to the Mercantile’s trailblazing efforts.
Missoula has long recognized the need to protect and preserve history; more than sentimentality, historic preservation brings money into the community by preserving that which makes a community unique. In 2009, the Downtown Missoula Master Plan identified the Mercantile location as a retail hot spot in the core business district; the same document also promised the city’s cooperation in maintaining “local community identity” by encouraging historic preservation, which the city said “creates jobs and saves resources.” We would like the city to recognize that historic buildings are a limited commodity. Demolition is a permanent, irreversible decision.
Businesses can become the symbol of a city. Seattle has Pike’s Place; Wenatchee has Pybus Public Market; Boston has Quincy Market; we believe the Mercantile has the potential to become similarly iconic. Cities across Montana have repurposed old buildings and turned them into event centers, cultural hubs, and strong local businesses. Because the building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Sites since 1990, state and federal tax credits are available to developers. This is an opportunity to own an iconic building in a bustling downtown. It’s a chance to create something vibrant, viable, and distinctly Missoula.
But the building must survive if its going to get the opportunity to be something new again.
Deny the demolition permit. #SavetheMerc !
In addition to signing this petition, consider contacting the Missoula municipal administration directly at mercantilecomment.ci.missoula.mt.us (any emails sent to this address are delivered to City Council, the Mayor, and the Missoula Historic Preservation Commission).
You can also reach out to City Council (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the Mayor (email@example.com) directly.
City of Missoula. Missoula Greater Downtown Master Plan. 2009.
National Trust for Historic Preservation and Montana Preservation Alliance. Montana: Creating Jobs, Building Communities, Preserving Heritage. c. 2013.
Montana State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). Nomination of the Missoula Downtown Historic District. 1990.
Nikki Manning. Historic Underground Missoula. Mount Pleasant, SC: The History Press, 2015.
Minie Smith, The Missoula Mercantile: The Store That Ran An Empire. Mount Pleasant, SC: The History Press, 2012.
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