Starting a business and keeping it afloat for a decade is no small feat, but running it successfully for a century through multiple generations and technological advancements is a minor miracle.
So on Thursday, May 2, the Missoula Historic Preservation Commission will celebrate five Missoula businesses that opened their doors more than 100 years ago.
Caras Nursery and Landscape, Missoula Textile Services, the Union Club Bar and Grill, Bob Ward’s Sports and Outdoors and Missoula’s Office City will be honored.
“So many people think historic preservation is just old buildings,” said Emy Scherrer, historic preservation officer for the City of Missoula. “But these legacy businesses are vital pieces of our local heritage. Whether today their storefront is located on Higgins or Reserve, these are places where generations of Missoulians have worked, shopped and crossed paths with each other."
Each business will receive a Heritage Business Award, and the event will feature a keynote speech by Amy Webb, a heritage tourism specialist and senior field director for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She’ll discuss how economic development, tourism and preservation can work together at the regional, state and local level.
There will be food from Cruz Taco Truck, live music by The Woodhogs, complimentary appetizers and beverages and the whole thing is free and open to the public. It will take place at Caras Nursery at 2727 S. 3rd St. W. at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
Scherrer noted the five businesses opened their doors in Missoula before electricity was widely available and all “watched the transition from horse and buggy to driverless cars” while providing employment for generations of Missoulians.
"They’re an important part of our story, and we’re excited to recognize the important role they’ve played in shaping our community," she said.
Caras Nursery & Landscape
Caras Nursery started in 1896 in the same location where it still operates today in the Orchard Homes neighborhood. James K. Caras bought it in 1920 and integrated it with his downtown business, Garden City Floral.
Bill Caras, the current owner, is the grandson of James K. Caras.
“He came to America directly from Greece at age 19,” Bill Caras explained. “He ended up in Missoula working for the railroad here. He wanted to make the American Dream come true.”
Caras said the old greenhouses were heated with coal and made of wood and glass, but many aspects of the business are still the same.
“The expectation back in 1896 was you’re going to help customers when they come in, and we still have that attitude here,” he said.
The business now employs between 15 and 75 people depending on the season.
Caras is proud of the company’s roots.
“I would say my grandfather was primarily just an immigrant that was motivated to make a new life here,” he said. “He said goodbye to his family. Some of them he never saw or talked to again. That’s typical of how they did it. It speaks to how they perceived America and the opportunities here. He became involved in all sorts of civic stuff here as well.”
Union Club Bar and Grill
Also in 1896, Butte copper baron Marcus Daly donated land in downtown Missoula and the original Union Hall was constructed there on East Main Street. It served as a local headquarters for unions affiliated with Federal Union Local 83, which predated the building trade unions that later organized into separate crafts. The building also hosted Missoula’s only theater.
The orginal building burned in 1911 but the present one was completed in 1917 with a dance hall. The Union Hall Company took ownership in 1908 and still owns it today. Sherrer called the building a “treasured community hub.”
Missoula Textile Services
In 1908, a man named Joseph Hagen opened a textile service in Missoula. He was the son of Swiss immigrants who had a laundry empire in Bozeman. It was originally called Model Laundry and operated in the basement of the Dorothy Apartment building until 1945, when it moved to its current East Spruce Street location under the name Missoula Laundry Company.
It was sold to his nephews Herman, Karl and Larry Topel in 1947 and has been continuously operating ever since.
Bob Ward's Sports & Outdoors
Bob Ward’s Sports & Outdoors was founded in 1917 when Robert C. Ward was on his way to find gold in the Klondike region. He ran out of money in Missoula, but a family friend owned a jewelry shop and offered Ward a job.
He opened what would become Bob Ward & Sons a decade later, and the business has been selling outdoor gear and all kinds of clothing for a century now. The company has been owned and operated by four generations of Wards.
Chad Ward, the current president of the company, told the Missoulian on the 100th anniversary of the store that the community is the reason it’s still around.
"We're here because of dedicated and loyal customers and staff," he said.
Missoula's Office City
Missoula’s Office City was founded in 1916 as The Office Supply Co. by former Montana governor Joseph Dixon. It became a local staple as it catered to local businesses and was situated in the old Florence Hotel. In 1995, the business became a part of the Office City national chain but is still locally owned. It's located at 115 W. Broadway today.