Back in the early '90s, Board of Missoula was the go-to store for the “alternative sports” of snowboarding and skateboarding, both of which were fairly new to Missoula.
Anytime a Missoulian article from 1989 on mentioned one of the sports, it seemed a requirement to phone the new shop and get a quote from then-21-year-old owners Zack Spannagel and Dan Gavere.
“Gavere claims snowboards also are safer than skis, even though the bindings don’t release in a fall,” goes one article from Nov. 16, 1989. “'Instead of breaking one leg, you have to break two legs,’ (Gavere) says, ‘and two legs are stronger than one.’
“However, Gavere’s business partner, Zack Spannagel, 21, admits that he dislocated a shoulder during a half-pipe competition at Snowbowl ski area last year.”
The two met on a ski lift at Snowbowl and, legend has it, by the time they got to the top they had decided Missoula needed a snowboard shop.
By current owner Chris Bacon’s guess, they added skateboards come springtime.
By 1995, Spannagel was quoted in an article titled “Baggy Threads Mark Board Look,” on snowboarders' unique clothing choices. In 2000, then-owner Jeff France was featured showing off high-tech snowboards made of genetically engineered wood.
These days, Bacon sits behind the counter with cases of polarized sunglasses and racks of hip skate clothes filling the store. Skateboard decks stamped with a 30-year anniversary logo sit in racks at the front of the shop.
“Shops like ours are few and far between,” Bacon said leaning on the glass counter.
There have been others through the years — Elements Board Shop the most recent — but Board of Missoula is the longest-lasting, celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2019.
Bacon, who’s worked at the shop since 1993, credits the town itself.
“Missoula’s just always had community in mind,” he said. “One of my first takes on Missoula coming here (from Washington) was that everyone wants to help everyone out.”
That community drew in Bacon, who found a caring group of skaters and snowboarders and a mentor in Spannagel (who died in 2015), who gave him a job at Board of Missoula. It was technically unpaid, Bacon said, but he was reimbursed with skateboard gear and learned the ins and outs of running the shop.
By the time that then-owner Jake Barrow wanted to sell the skate-focused half of the store in 2013, Bacon was ready to take charge, eventually buying the whole place in 2017.
“This is where I wanted to be, so I did whatever it took,” Bacon said. “In the back of my mind, I’d always wanted to own the shop.”
After leaving Missoula for a year in the mid-'90s, Bacon has been at Board of Missoula ever since, through multiple owners and name changes. (It was called Edge of the World under Barrow).
When Bacon took over, it was a no-brainer to change the name back to Board of Missoula.
“It’s still the same great place,” he said. “It’s been kind of an honor and privilege to bring it back to what it was.”
Loyal customers have been coming in for skate and snowboard needs since Bacon started working (and called it “Board of Missoula” even through the years it was under a different name).
Skate and snowboard culture has fluctuated a bit through the years, with a massive boom in the '90s that threatened the shop because of stiff competition.
"When snowboards were really going off, that was hard," Bacon remembered.
But the store has been stable for a while, Bacon said, with a merging of skate culture into pop culture that’s helped quite a bit (just look at how many Vans sneakers you see on people who’ve never touched a skateboard).
“I think it’s great,” Bacon said. “We just sell fun here.”
Missoula’s skate scene in the '90s holds fond memories for Bacon. Through his years working for gear at Board of Missoula, Spannagel was always ready to lend his couch or some money when needed.
Other skaters didn’t form cliques like the Washingtonians Bacon grew up with; There was a larger bond at work.
“When you saw another person with skate shoes and the marks on their shoes, you said, ‘What’s up man?’ And you knew that person skated,” Bacon remembered.
There weren’t many (or any) skateparks in Montana yet and Bacon, who’s on the board of the Montana Skate Park Association, is glad to see the abundance of parks that exist now, creating a statewide culture among skaters who visit parks in St. Ignatius and Hamilton and Missoula.
Board of Missoula itself started small, with “like five snowboards,” as inventory, Bacon laughed. Now, they get exclusive items and colorways from manufacturers like Vans and Burton, as a show of support for locally owned skate shops.
“We still have some of the original displays,” Bacon said. “Some of that stuff hasn’t changed since I’ve started working here.
“Probably some of the music has not changed. I’m sure I’m still playing some of the same stuff I played back then.”
Music like Jane’s Addiction, the Dead Kennedys and '90s hip-hop. It was a big deal when the shop cassette deck upgraded to a five-CD changer, but Bacon said most of the time they were too lazy to change out the CDs, quickly growing tired of the same endless rotation.
In recent years the shop has put on more events, focused on the skate, snowboard and arts community. Girls on Shred is a female-focused skate event that’s usually paired with a concert, held at Board of Missoula’s backroom half-pipe.
“We’re not just here to make a buck, we’re here for the community of snowboarding and skateboarding,” Bacon said. “As the years have gone by, it’s become more necessary and popular in the best way.”