by Travis Mateer
Yesterday I got a text of an image that has apparently popped up around town. Here is the text I received:
I went looking for some information about the historical image this flyer utilized and found a Harmon’s Histories article from the Missoula Current. The man known as the “Missoula Octopus” was A.B. Hammond and it was his involvement with the Missoula Mercantile, after the original founder, Edward L. Bonner, passed away, that earned him the octopus moniker.
You see, Bonner was a respected Missoula citizen and A.B. Hammond, on the other hand, was NOT. From the link:
In what would prove to be a fateful decision, Bonner hired a man named A.B. Hammond to work at the store in 1873. Three years later, they were business partners. Soon, Bonner and his partner turned their attention to lumbering and supplying materials, specifically railroad ties, to the Northern Pacific Railroad.
That led to the establishment of one of America’s largest lumber mills, along the Blackfoot River. A small town soon developed next to the mill. The Northern Pacific dubbed its stop there “Bonner,” in honor of the man. The name stuck for the mill and the town.
In addition to the huge lumber operation on the Blackfoot and the Mercantile, Bonner was a co-owner of the First National Bank in Missoula and president of the Montana Real Estate Association.
But he loved his New York roots, and would spend virtually every winter there enjoying the company of relatives and friends.
Upon his death, Bonner was referred to in area newspapers as “one of the oldest and most respected citizens of this state.”
His longtime business partner, Hammond, on the other hand, was not well loved. With his hands in seemingly every business in town, he became known as the “Missoula octopus.”
The legacy of Hammond’s namesake can be found in the Hammond building, which sits adjacent to the Wilma. The Coffee family, which held the property in a corporation for generations, sold it in 2016. One of the family members selling off his family’s heritage expressed frustration at the time that the destruction of the Missoula Mercantile was being stalled by preservationists.
Over the past year, Coffee has expressed frustration with the ongoing Missoula Mercantile debate. That historic structure stands across the street and has sat empty for six years.
A developer is working to close on the property and has received preliminary approval from the city to deconstruct the Mercantile and erect a $30 million hotel in its place. However, a group of preservation advocates has filed a lawsuit in Missoula District Court to stop the project.
Coffee is frustrated.
“Everyone says it’s just wonderful in Missoula, but it’s not so wonderful downtown,” Coffee said, speaking to the district’s business climate. “The Mercantile has been empty and derelict for years. It’s been a dead weight, and that’s hurt all of us downtown.”
Coffee said he supports the new Marriott hotel project, saying it would bring visitors to the downtown district and help bolster local businesses. The hotel project includes ground-floor retail and dining space, he noted.
“If these people who want to save the Mercantile at all costs would put up some money to buy it, then good for them,” Coffee said. “If they can’t, then they should take a back seat and let the owners move on with the (hotel) project.”
Here’s the gist of Coffee’s stance on development in Missoula: if you have the money, BUY IT, and if you don’t, SHUT THE FUCK UP!
The myth-makers and narrative-controllers who can claim historical provenance with their surnames feel VERY entitled to transform Missoula however they see fit. And those without important names like Coffee and Merriam and Talbot can STFU. It’s a great strategy that can apply to ANY eruption of citizen discontent over the rapid changes happening in our little valley.
Don’t want the Mercantile destroyed? SHUT THE FUCK UP!
Don’t want Caras Park destroyed? SHUT THE FUCK UP!
Unhappy with Tax Increment Financing? SHUT THE FUCK UP!
Oppose the development of a golf course? SHUT THE FUCK UP!
I’m sure it would be SO MUCH EASIER for our local oligarchs if the serfs in this town knew their place and acted accordingly.
Unfortunately (for the oligarchs) I didn’t get the serf-memo, probably because I’m a privileged white man myself, and therefore possess a strain of entitlement that inoculates me from shutting the fuck up.
And I’ll be doing MORE of NOT shutting the fuck up in the weeks and months to come.
So stay tuned…