Ownership of the University Center Market has changed hands, and the treasured campus hub won't reopen until later in the fall semester when a renovation is complete.
The UC Bookstore sold the market to UM Dining for $328,000, according to University of Montana officials.
As enrollment declined at Missoula campus, the financial pressures that have hit the rest of campus since 2010 also strained the venue with an espresso bar, snacks and a throng of fans and followers.
Over time, the market became a financial drain on the UC Bookstore, a nonprofit based on campus. Over the last four years, the shop experienced an annual $15,500 shortfall, said the Bookstore's Matt LaPalm.
"It's been pretty heartbreaking to let it go," said LaPalm, a former market worker himself.
However, UM Dining director Camp Howard said running an efficient food operation is in UM Dining's wheelhouse, and he believes it can position the 3,000-square-foot market to succeed.
A renovation is underway that aims to strengthen the market's appeal while preserving the flavor and culture of the shop, he said. The store will reopen with the same name but with a new design and "sliding glass barn door" that invites customers into an open layout.
The updated market will sell UM Dining's Bear Claw Bakery goods along with similar items it has sold in the past from local vendors.
"With the design and product placement, we feel confident it will be a success," Howard said.
One disappointment in the transition is the market won't open in time for the start of the fall semester, he said. Demolition is complete, but UM Dining does not want to fast track the remodel in the midst of a hectic construction season.
"The market did have a following, and we're excited to be a part of that and continue the legend," Howard said.
The UC Market opened in 1989 with manager Brooke Corr at the helm. Corr ran the shop until 2004 and took sales from $440,000 in the first year to $2.5 million.
Years ago, the market was the pinnacle of campus, Corr said. She said one of its goals was to provide as many non-work-study jobs for students as it could, and the workers appreciated the market.
"They really took a lot of pride in the fact that they worked there," Corr said. "They were amazing, and they were really well thought of."
But a series of events combined to squeeze the market's budget, she said.
In advance of the enrollment slide, Corr said the UC Market had agreed to increase its rent payment in order to help the University Center, which was surviving on student fees.
The market also stopped selling cigarettes, which Corr said was the right thing to do but hurt the bottom line. Meanwhile, she said sales of Grizzlies items fell at the UC Bookstore, where she later worked, because the football team wasn't winning.
"It was kind of a perfect storm," she said.
Eamon Fahey, chief operating officer of the Bookstore, said the enrollment trajectory at UM runs parallel to the revenue at the UC Bookstore.
"Our revenues have just been dying on the vine," Fahey said.
Publicly available tax forms show losses of $670,000 in 2012, $290,000 in 2013, and $289,000 in 2014. As a result, he said the Bookstore has been forced to make cuts, reducing staff in 2013 and buying out five people last fall.
He said finances forced the Bookstore to divest the market, as well. "This decision did not come without a very heavy heart."
With the market off its books, though, LaPalm said the UC Bookstore will be able to focus on keeping the costs of course materials as low as possible. And he said he's hopeful that the new owner will help the market thrive.
"We're excited to see where (UM) Dining takes it," LaPalm said.