Archive for December 6th, 2007

by Pete Talbot

A downtown defines a city and in the 1980’s, Missoula’s downtown was on its way out. The economy was lousy and Southgate Mall was beating up on downtown retailers.

Most of the merchants and other business people downtown would have welcomed The Loft with open arms. Hell, they would have welcomed any business with open arms. Back then, if I remember correctly, Fantasy for Adults played an active role in the Downtown Association.

Jamee Greer created a bit of a firestorm with his recent post on the newly created, members only, tony bar called The Loft. Comments ran the gamut, from attacks on those who would join such a club to a strong defense of the club and its members. The undercurrent to all this was that nasty fourteen-letter word: gentrification.

So being one of the older (as in over 50-years-old) contributors to 4&20 and approaching forty years here in the Garden City, I’d like to offer some perspective. My wife has also been involved in a number of retail and service businesses downtown, and has suffered through the bad years and enjoyed the good ones.

Downtown is in a constant state of flux. A decade ago, who would have thought that there would be six, that I can count, coffee shops downtown? When I first moved here in the late 1960’s, there were three hardware stores, three drug stores and a half-dozen clothing stores in the greater downtown area. Thanks to WalMart, Home Depot and Target, I doubt we’ll see those small, independently-owned businesses downtown again, at least not in my lifetime.

And here’s a little déjà vu. Most of my generation remembers and occasionally visited a bar called Lukes. It was a biker dive bar that had music on the weekends. Oh the angst when Lukes closed and was taken over by an upscale deli (with some funding help by the Missoula Redevelopment Association). Missoula’s going yuppie, was the hue and cry, gentrification is ruining the downtown.

Of course other music venues appeared on the scene. Jays, the bar that the Loft is replacing, was one of them.

So maybe downtown is becoming too hip for its own good but please consider the alternatives, like a downtown that nobody wants to visit. Plus, there are parts of Missoula that are hurting the way downtown was in the 1980’s. A blighted Brooks Street comes to mind. Maybe that’s where the next Jays will pop up.

Things could be worse. Been to downtown Billings or Great Falls lately? You can fire a cannon down the main drag and not hit anyone. I’ll bet those cities would readily accept The Loft.

Would I join The Loft? Probably not. To borrow from Groucho Marx, I’d be suspect of any club that wanted me as a member. I also think my invitation was lost in the mail.

Do I want to see a downtown made up entirely of exclusive clubs, high-end boutiques and Aspen-like galleries? Of course not. But having lived through the years when downtown Missoula almost died, I’m not so quick to judge any business that wants to add its name to the roster of downtown Missoula players.

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