Photograph by Tom Robertson
The Sweet Palace, Philipsburg
“Everyone who steps through the door becomes the proverbial ‘kid in a candy store,’” says Mike Milodragovich, a Missoula lawyer who's had a cabin near here since 1994, of The Sweet Palace. The grand emporium is housed in a restored Victorian building and sells more than 1,100 kinds of treats. There are 20 kinds of homemade caramels plus marshmallow, peanut brittle, and toffee; about 50 different kinds of fudge; hand-dipped chocolates such as buttercreams, caramels, truffles, almond butter crunch, haystacks, and nut clusters; and 72 flavors of saltwater taffy. Watch the taffy being pulled, cut into portions, and wrapped by a 1918 model K taffy kiss wrapper. Then, head two doors up the street to the emporium’s confectionary kitchen, Copper Cauldron, to see candymakers churn out 20-pound batches of taffy and caramels and smaller batches of toffees, marshmallow, truffles, and brittles.
Eva Gates Homemade Preserves, Bigfork
Each jar of Eva Gates Homemade Preserves contains a bit of Northwestern Montana history. In the 1940s, Eva and her husband, George, lived in a two-room log house in the Flathead Valley outside Bigfork. It was there in 1949 that Eva started cooking strawberry preserves five pints at a time on the couple’s wood stove. Today, Eva’s granddaughter, Gretchen Gates, carries on the family tradition at Eva Gates Homemade Preserves in downtown Bigfork. All of the store’s homemade preserves and syrups still are prepared five pints at a time using Eva’s original recipe and the electric stovetop she had custom built in 1966. Only Flathead Valley indigenous fruits, including the prized and plump wild huckleberry, go into each batch.
“Visitors can watch and smell the preserves being made, interact with our cooks, and, of course, sample all of our products,” Gates says. “As an added bonus during wild huckleberry season [mid-July through September], you can see the berries being washed on our loading dock and taste some fresh.”
Schnee’s Flagship Store, Bozeman
The story of Schnee’s begins with a pair of boots. In 1987, Bozeman shoe shop owners Steve and Jean Schnee started handcrafting rubber sole pac boots designed to fit Montanans: rugged, durable, and dependable. Their Montana-made pac boots have become standard ranch footwear across the state and throughout the West. The original pac boot has morphed into several styles (most fit into standard stirrups), and all are completely re-buildable for a nominal fee.
At Schnee’s red brick flagship store in Bozeman’s historic downtown, you can try on a pair of pac boots (including some made with bison leather), browse the wide selection of “best-of-breed” outdoor apparel and footwear, and even pick up a hunting license. Any purchase you make comes with the family-run Schnee’s uniquely Montanan customer satisfaction guarantee: “We are from Montana: if it's not right, we'll make it right.”
The Shops at Station 8, Columbia Falls
“My story begins with falling in love with the original 1890s train depot,” says Colette Gross, owner of The Shops at Station 8, a 4,000-square-foot vintage and antique interiors, apparel, and accessories shop located in Columbia Falls’s historic Great Northern Railway station. “I saw beyond the grease, grime, and age, and saw the potential for a truly remarkable space.”
Gross, her husband, Peter, and crew completely restored the original depot and adjoining freight house, reopening the building in June 2008. During the renewal process, Gross discovered a board in the attic dated March 1908. The two “eights” inspired Gross to honor the depot’s past and celebrate its new life by incorporating the number 8 into the name of her shop. All of the train depot’s original maple flooring remain, as do the bead-board walls and original transoms. Also on display are antique bottles, tin cans, and other artifacts found inside the walls, as well as the depot’s original enamel Western Union Telegraph and Cable Office sign.
Lou Taubert Ranch Outfitters, Billings
This is Western heaven: nine floors and 10,000 pairs of boots, buckles, cowboy hats, and gear right in the middle of downtown Billings. The legendary Lou Taubert Ranch Outfitters store is a third-generation, family-owned business originating in 1919 in Fort Laramie, Wyoming.
“My granddad came to America, by himself, when he was just 14 years old, and he dreamed of becoming a cowboy,” says store owner Anita Taubert, Lou Taubert’s daughter. “We are now celebrating  years in Billings, carrying on our western heritage.”
The Taubert family’s impressive array of Western wear includes authentic Stetsons and boots galore (including toddler sizes): working cowboy boots with high shaft, double stitching, and riding heel; deep-scalloped bull or bronco rider's boots with riding heel; and a traditional roper's boot with a thick, flat heel.
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