Old-Fashioned Montana Trading Post

Iconic Communities, On the Road, Travel Destinations
on June 8, 2003

Crossing the threshold of Allen’s Manix Store, a century-old general store, is a journey back in time. The warmth of the store’s old wood stove and softly lit interior draw people in, particularly during a harsh Montana winter. Rustic barnwood walls create an Old West décor adorned with everything from ironwork to antique Western art—including orange and black silhouettes of buckin’ broncos, cowboys, and cooks.

“What I remember most is you’d walk through that squeaky, swinging screen door, and that old floor that isn’t level,” Amy Haverlandt says of the store about 20 miles from her parent’s cabin. Haverlandt, 39, says she can still hear the sound of cowboy boots shuffling across the fading, black and maroon rubber tile floor and smell the aroma of fresh-baked rolls—a Sunday morning treat she enjoyed as a child.

Allen’s—known to longtime customers as The Trading Post—is one of America’s few surviving general mercantiles, selling everything from dry goods to groceries. The store opened in 1902 in the white, two-story building constructed with board and batten siding. It’s more than a place to shop for the 284 residents of Augusta, Mont.; it’s a community center where they can be certain of a warm welcome whether they are shopping or catching up on high school sports and ranching news.

“Where else can you go, and if you don’t have money with you, they’ll put your name on the wall (cork board), and know you’ll pay for it?’’ asks Cody Weisner, a rancher and daughter of the store’s owner, Don Allen.

Allen, 73, bought the store about 35 years ago. “We have people come in here and tell us, ‘Please don’t change it,’’’ Allen says. “They say they haven’t seen anything like it since they were kids.’’

Another daughter, Susan Ford, manages the store, while many of his 39 grandchildren have spent hours behind the cash register over the years. Allen, and his wife, LaDeanne, live above the store.

“A lot of people come in here to ask for directions,” LaDeanne says. “Some set up signs and posters, and others come in to find out how the weather is over by the mountains and check on road conditions.”

Located 78 miles north of Helena, the 1883 town attracts those who want to enjoy the beauty of Montana’s high country. Haverlandt has fond memories of the store, always the last stop on her family’s trek from her home in Great Falls to their cabin.

“It still has that musty but good smell that reminds me of Grandma’s house,” Haverlandt says. When she comes through Augusta now, her own children, Hailey, 12, and Terrance, 10, echo the words of their mother as a child: “Let’s stop at The Trading Post!”

The Allens have updated without sacrificing original features, says Ford, who has managed the store since 1976. Ford points out 20-foot ceilings, the old coolers, and the original cash register on display, while they have added a meat-cutting room, freezers, and a soda fountain drink machine. The sign posted just outside the door reads: “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.”

A stroll through the store takes customers past groceries, health supplies, fishing and hunting equipment, cowboy clothing, boots, and gifts. Toys and video movies attract the younger set while tourists can pick up souvenirs such as Montana jams and jellies, jewelry, antler belt buckles, or Western string ties. There are fresh sandwiches and baked goods, too.

With the nearest store 26 miles away, local shoppers know they can always count on the Allens—even after hours if a worried parent needs medicine for a child, or a hunter needs a hunting license early in the morning.

And if something isn’t on the crowded shelves, the Allens are willing to lend their personal belongings. Ford says her father is “one of those people who never throws anything out.” So if an item isn’t in the store, he’s apt to have it stashed away somewhere. “We’ve loaned everything from rubber boots to coats and hats to a multitude of things,” she says, “because it’s the kind and neighborly thing to do.”