Board of Missoula returns to its roots 

Board of Missoula opened in 1989 in a space on Main Street where owners Zack Spannagel and Dan Gavere peddled skateboard and snowboard equipment to the town's small alternative sports scene. Missoula was just starting to experience a new wave of underground culture: Rockin Rudy's carried the latest cassettes from Seattle hardcore and early grunge bands, punk shows were popping up in newly designated hole-in-the-wall venues and, in 1991, the Indy published its first issues of alternative arts and news. Board of Missoula served as a social space for young misfits and artists, especially those bewitched by the boarding lifestyle.

And now, after 13 years under the Edge of the World brand, Board of Missoula is back, rechristened by the longtime stalwart of the store, Chris Bacon.

In 1993, Bacon was a 17-year-old skateboarder living on his own and trying to finish his senior year in high school when Spannagel asked him if he wanted to come work at the shop. Board of Missoula had since relocated to the corner of Fifth Street and Higgins on the block where it is today and Spannagel—a mentor to many of the skaters and snowboarders in town—needed a little help.

"My jaw dropped because it was totally what I wanted to do," Bacon says. "I broke down cardboard, got him lunch. He would give me $5 here or there, but I mostly worked for skateboards and snowboards."

With the exception of one year—between 1994 and 1995 when he moved to Washington—Bacon continued to work at Board of Missoula even as its owners came and went, working his way up the ranks. The shop went through phases of selling other equipment, including hacky sacks, rollerblades and kayaks, but always it was known best for skateboards and snowboards.

In 2003, Jake Barrow bought the shop and renamed it Edge of the World after his family's skate and snowboarding business in North Carolina. For early supporters of Board of Missoula, like Bacon, the name change was a tough pill to swallow, but the shop continued to thrive.

"For him, that name was home, so it made sense," Bacon says.

click to enlarge Chris Bacon started working at Board of Missoula in 1993 and bought the iconic shop earlier this month. - PHOTO BY AMY DONOVAN
  • photo by Amy Donovan
  • Chris Bacon started working at Board of Missoula in 1993 and bought the iconic shop earlier this month.

Two years ago, Bacon became a part owner of Edge of the World and started selling boards under the Board of Missoula moniker (BOMB), and early this year, on March 1, he bought the shop from Barrow and turned it back to Board of Missoula.

On a recent Friday afternoon, Bacon walks the short distance from the shop—where a temporary sign reading Board of Missoula waves in the wind like a pirate flag—to the Southside KettleHouse. He's just gotten off a phone call with Wright Hollingsworth, a former Board of Missoula owner who called from Norway to congratulate him on his new ownership. And on the street and in the tap room, a few acquaintances stop him to offer their regards, too.

"I've had so much support and enthusiasm for the name coming back," he says. "It's the shop I grew up with and so I have tons of love for that name. But I also think it's a great name. It makes sense. Tourists always seem to want something with the name of the town in it. "

Barrow plans to continue running a whitewater rafting business in North Carolina—something he's been doing part time for the last several years—and pursue a new career in aviation. He says changing the name back to Board of Missoula is appropriate as Bacon takes on the leadership role. "My hope is that the community will continue to support Chris," he says. "There are dying skateboard and snowboard shops all over the country that don't have a community like this one."

Over the past two decades, skateboarding and snowboarding have gone from being punk sports with a bad rap to welcomed mainstream hobbies. The Montana Skatepark Association, which sprung from Board of Missoula (Bacon is the president) has helped establish skateparks all over the state. Last year, the shop weathered a huge loss when Spannagel died of pancreatitis. For Bacon, bringing the shop's name back to its roots is partly a tribute to him. It's also a tribute to the community that nurtured him.

"I lived in 57 different homes growing up before I bought my first home in Missoula," he says. "I moved here and fell in love with this community and, with Board of Missoula, I felt like I was a part of something. And now I feel like I've been able to give back and will continue to give back to this community. And that's pretty awesome."

This article was updated Thu., March 16, to show that Wright Hollingsworth was in Norway when he called Chris Bacon.
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