Pipestone snowed under

Only about three weeks after Missoula's expanded REI opened its doors, Pipestone Mountaineering, a downtown mainstay since the mid-'90s, announced it's closing its own.

It's more cause-and-effect than coincidence, says Jay Allen, owner of Bozeman-based Northern Lights Trading Co., which bought Pipestone last May.

"The economy hasn't been kind to us," Allen says. "It seems to just keep impacting us. And then on top of it, we've got to contend with a big-box retailer doubling in size. So I think those two things combined caused us to make a fairly painful decision, which is that we need to close Pipestone...

"Maybe there's not room for three outdoor retailers," he adds.

The closure lengthens the already long list of Missoula businesses that have succumbed to the recession. Most notably, Macy's and Moose Creek Mercantile closed downtown locations earlier this year. Brady's Sportsman's Surplus, another local outdoor recreation store, closed in March. Pipestone, located at 129 W. Front Street, will begin liquidating its inventory of outdoor equipment and apparel on Thursday, June 3, Allen says, and will remain open during its regular hours until everything's gone. Five employees will lose their jobs.

Northern Lights bought Pipestone about a year ago in hopes of reinvigorating the business that had been owned by Jim Wilson since it opened. But new management and a wider product selection weren't enough to overcome the economic hardships that, Allen says, "just kind of all hit at once."

"It's a hard decision to make," Allen says. "It's unfortunate that we have to make this decision. We certainly appreciate all the customers that have shopped at Pipestone over the years. And I hope that the customers that have shopped at Pipestone will continue to shop at other local merchants that are here. I think that will probably do more to help Missoula than anything else."

Allen would probably send the same message to residents of Bozeman, where Northern Lights operates its two remaining stores. Another new REI opened there two weeks ago.

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