The Roxy, the Go West, and the fate of independent business 

Did last week’s announcement that the Roxy was closing its doors—and taking the Go West Drive In with it—remind anyone else of another landmark business closure still very fresh in Missoula’s collective memory? Freddy’s Feed & Read, perhaps? Surely you remember all the wringing of hands and tearful confessions: “Oh, if I’d only bought more books! If only I’d supported them above and beyond that 40-cent daily coffee refill…”

Here’s a message found in a bottle—or, rather, one that recently slipped out of a copy of Ann Douglas’ Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s at Barnes & Noble last week: a photocopied flyer with “Support Independent Bookstores” composed ransom-note style in randomly clipped letters. On the flipside: a reprint of a “This Modern World” cartoon, attacking the corporate bookstore double-speak.

Wow, we thought. Real-live agitprop! Someone’s trying to foment an economic rebellion right there in the bosom of Barnes & Noble, the same business that—when it first opened—prompted local booksellers to organize a “Nightmare on Reserve Street” field trip to protest.

As it turns out, there were a couple of different flyers secreted into the stacks at Barnes & Noble. When we talked to Laura Werstak, the store’s community relations coordinator, she told us about another variant she’d found, one that reprised unproven comments allegedly made by a manager about putting Freddy’s out of business.

“We found there’s no truth to the manager allegations,” Werstak say firmly. “That’s just bad business, and no one would ever do that.”

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As for the closing of the Go West Drive-In, you could argue that the day of the drive-in has long since passed—co-owner Ed Sharp loved the Go West enough to keep the drive-in running basically out of his own pocket while he was still alive—but the loss of our drive-in is still a particularly unkind cut.

Sharp and partner Bob Sias opened the Go West in 1966, outfitting it with equipment purchased from the closing Mountain View Drive-In, formerly located across from the bus station on West Broadway. Nationwide, the drive-in craze had already peaked and the industry was only a few years away from a ruinous decline. Of the 39 drive-ins operating in Montana in 1958, only 8 survived the next 30 years.

Today, the 10-acre property is listed with Cates Realty for $280,000—everything included, although the outlook of someone buying it with the intent of re-opening the business seems pretty bleak.

“The things you least expect often happen,” says historical preservation officer Allan Mathews of Missoula County’s Office of Planning and Grants. “It’s a nostalgic experience, so it’s possible that someone might come along and revitalize it. But it’s doubtful. It’s the passing of an era.”

If nothing else, we’re lucky to have had it for as long as we did. But you can’t help wondering: who’s next?

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