Pipestone goes to the Lights 

Missoula outdoor retailer Pipestone Mountaineering changed hands last week when owner Jim Wilson sold the business to Bozeman-based Northern Lights Trading Company.

Wilson put Pipestone up for sale last fall, and says about four individuals have expressed interest. Northern Lights, which currently runs two stores, looked like the best fit.

“I really like the folks there,” Wilson says. “They’re really genuine people, and they have the same philosophy as far as customer service.”

Northern Lights owner Jay Allen says the transition is going smoothly, largely thanks to Wilson’s cooperation. Managers from Northern Lights visited Pipestone last Friday to meet with staff and check the store’s inventory.

Pipestone won’t change much for now, aside from wider product selection. Both the store name and staff will remain.

“We don’t want to come in there and change everything,” says Northern Lights manager Matt Parsons. “We have a great customer base there, we have a great staff, we have good lines, great inventory. We’re just going to try to get more of it in there.”

Over time, some aspects of the Pipestone operation will improve. One retail avenue Allen hopes to expand is the store’s web presence. Northern Lights has experienced considerable success in online sales.

“I think it’s going to be a better store overall than when I had it,” Wilson says.

As for Wilson’s post-Pipestone life, he says he’s excited to focus on his real estate work. Wilson founded Pipestone in Butte in 1990 and moved the store to Missoula in the mid-’90s. At the time the Trail Head had a monopoly in outdoor retail, and Wilson says he sought to increase customer options. Always underfinanced and overworked, it’s been an upstream paddle.

“I wanted a change,” Wilson says. “I’ve been in retail probably 25 years, and I just needed a break…a change of life.”
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