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Tasty neighbors: Big Dipper, Dram Shop revitalize southside strip mall

Posted at 2:39 PM, Dec 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-20 16:39:57-05

Big Dipper Ice Cream plans to renovate a portion of a derelict southside strip mall and expand its business to the new location next year, joining the Dram Shop as the building’s new tenants.

Charlie Beaton, founder and owner of Big Dipper, said the renovations add up to roughly $500,000. He received a hand from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency on Thursday, which voted to allocate roughly $43,000 toward improvements to the building’s antiquated facade.

“Our plan is to really transform that space,” Beaton said Thursday. “We’re going to make this space look really nice, and people are going to appreciate it. It’s going to be a nice draw for that area.”

The funding awarded Thursday stems from the city’s Facade Improvement Program, which provides assistance to businesses that enhance the appearance of rundown properties and increase their energy efficiency.

The funding will enable Beaton to add a festive awning to the dreary structure, along with high-energy glass and a patio with planters in front of the shop.

“Right now, it yells out 1970s – an almost disposable building, as we found out with the other half,” said Chris Behan, assistant MRA director. “It’ll be a welcome improvement.”

Southgate Mall under its previous owners purchased the strip mall in 2014. Half the building and an old motel was razed to make way for the extension of Mary Street and the construction of the AMC dine-in theater.

Over the past few years, the once-blighted area has begun something of a resurgence, attracting a number of new businesses that have restored a sense of vibrancy to the district. Bridge Pizza moved in this year after a lengthy renovation of its own, as did the Trail Head.

The Dram Shop is also making improvements to its new location – the company’s second in Missoula. Big Dipper and the Dram Shop will sit side by side and face the theater.

Beaton said the location is ideal for his customers, who have endured 45-minute lines at the Big Dipper on Higgins Avenue. Beaton founded the business in 1985 and has since expanded to other Montana communities.

“I think people who live out in the South Hills and don’t get downtown will appreciate a space like this,” said Beaton. “We gutted it completely down to the sticks. That’s why it’s half-a-million dollars. There’s a little bit of sticker shock compared to some of the other projects we’ve done.”

The new location will be open year-round and will generate roughly 20 jobs in the first year, including three full-time positions. Along with other improvements to the area, it’s also expected to incentivize further redevelopment.

“There are additional spaces available in the building and several vacant and underutilized buildings and lots in the immediate area of the project, which may gain additional attention or produce an incentive to redevelop,” said Behan.