The Missoula Mercantile Company dominated the distribution of goods beginning in the Missoula Valley from the late nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century. Although it traced its origins to Missoula's second general store, established in 1866, The Merc, as locals called the store, was renamed the Missoula Mercantile Company in 1884. It changed hands and names several times before being demolished to make way for a hotel in 2017.
The Montana gold rush of 1862 created an influx of people into Montana. The Missoula Valley's gold-laden streams and rivers attracted miners looking for placer gold (loose gold in rivers and streams) in the surrounding areas. To cater to the needs of miners, Frank Worden and Christopher Higgins opened Worden & Co., Missoula's first general store, in 1860. In 1864, gold was discovered in Salish Kootenai tribal lands, increasing the number of miners traveling through Missoula. In 1866, Edward Bonner and Daniel Welch established a competitor store named Bonner & Welch; they soon hired Richard A. Eddy as the store clerk. Bonner & Welch, the foundation of the future Missoula Mercantile Company, began to outpace Worden & Co. by operating a series of tent stores near profitable small mining operations. Worden and Co. primarily served in Missoula and was unwilling to compete with the new company. In 1871, Welch sold his share of Bonner & Welch to Eddy and the company name became E.L. Bonner and Co.
A young Canadian immigrant named Andrew B. Hammond who came to town in 1870 would forever change E.L. Bonner and Co., where he was hired as a clerk in 1872. In 1876, Richard Eddy decided to become less involved in daily operations. This led to the reorganization of the company, which was re-branded Eddy, Hammond and Co. As the gold in mines, riverbeds, and streams dried up, miners began to settle in the Missoula area. With business increasing, Eddy, Hammond and Co. decided to build a “permanent” building made of brick. By 1880, Eddy was busy establishing a sister store in Deer Lodge, Eddy, Hammond and Co., which served the lucrative mining operations in Butte. Missoula operations fell to Hammond, who expanded business by establishing a large barn and shed for excess merchandise. By 1880, Eddy, Hammond and Co. was far surpassing annual sales of Worden & Co. In 1886, Worden & Co. merged with another business, but would ultimately fail. Eddy, Hammond and Co. no longer had any significant adversaries to compete against within Missoula.
Another significant change1880 came in the form of a new general manager, Herb L. McLeod. McLeod played a pivotal role in creating Hammond’s empire. McLeod oversaw daily operations of the store, as well as Hammond’s numerous holdings throughout the region. Hammond and McLeod became best friends as well as business partners. Hammond’s empire would begin to blossom in the next couple of years due to the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad. This railroad was planned to connect coast to coast and increase shipping maneuverability, but its construction had ground to a halt due to a lack of federal funds to purchase land. Completion of the railroad now depended on the purchase of private property. Hammond saw the opportunity to expand Eddy, Hammond and Co.’s monopoly. He donated land held by the company, as well as some of his own private acreage, to the railroad. This deal not only guaranteed that the railway would run through Missoula, but also gave Eddy, Hammond and Co. exclusive freight shipping prices and discounts.
By the early 1880s, Hammond would own or co-own the Big Blackfoot Milling Co. (the largest mill between Wisconsin and the West Coast), a flour mill in Bonner, grain elevators in western Montana, the Missoula Real Estate Association, the Florence Hotel, the Hammond Block, the First National Bank (western Montana's largest bank), the South Missoula Land Company, the Missoula Water Works and Milling Company (which controlled all water and electricity in Missoula), the Missoula Street Railway Company, the Missoula Publishing Company (which published the Missoulian newspaper), and the Missoula Valley Improvement Company (which owned the cemetery). By 1883, Hammond added a second story to Eddy, Hammond, and Co.’s general store, which had become the largest employer in Missoula County after the railroad. Hammond then became involved in the Montana Improvement Company, which was tied to the Anaconda Mining Company in Butte, further lowering his exchange rates of goods, and solidifying his monopoly on timber.
1885 marked the official birth of the Missoula Mercantile Company due to federal investigations of monopolies in Montana. Hammond, foreseeing the breakup of his Eddy, Hammond and Co., spread his holding and assets into the hands of family and friends. The largest general store in Montana, now named the Missoula Mercantile, went to McLeod. Hammond traveled in Oregon and California to pursue other business interests, including timber, leaving McLeod in charge. However, Hammond remained powerful behind the scenes, corresponding almost daily with McLeod about the Mercantile.
By 1909, the Mercantile was in desperate need for renovation. The remodeled building included two additional levels, bringing it to a height of four stories. The Mercantile also rented space from the Chaney building, located on the southwest corner of Front and Pattee Streets. The following year, the Mercantile celebrated its “Silver Anniversary,” marking 25 years of business in Missoula, dating its inception from the dissipation of Eddy, Hammond and Co. in 1885.
Hammond died in 1934; McLeod continued to run the Mercantile through the late 1930s. McLeod died in 1946; business did not keep up in the following decades. The Missoula Mercantile was sold to Allied Department Stores in 1959 and to the Bon Marche in 1978. In 2003, it merged with Macy's to become Bon-Macy’s, and in 2010 it became solely owned by Macy’s. In 2017 the building was demolished and a hotel called Residence Inn by Marriott was built in its place. Although the Missoula Mercantile is no more, the names of the Mercantile’s numerous owners and competitors mark many of the streets and buildings around the Missoula area, demonstrating that the Missoula Mercantile Company was the bedrock of modern Missoula.