Dram Shop expands to 2nd location as part of Midtown Missoula rejuvenation

The Dram Shop was Montana’s first standalone growler retailer when it opened in downtown Missoula in April of 2015. (BeerAdvocate.com)

The pieces fell into place this week for the Dram Shop to open a second location, this one near Missoula’s Southgate Mall.

Dram Shop owner Zach Millar was busy attending city meetings, but the timing was well.

By week’s end, the three-year-old business had secured the help needed to open its new shop in the strip mall at 2700 Paxson Ave., across from Southgate Mall. The original Dram Shop opened in April 2015 on East Front Street, and has quickly become a staple of Missoula’s downtown scene.

This week, Millar received a favorable response to his request for a conditional use permit from the City Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee, something required of anyone wanting to operate a tavern. The public hearing and vote will happen at Monday night’s regular City Council meeting.

Council member Julie Armstrong said she was excited to have the Dram Shop open in her ward because she didn’t know if the strip mall would survive without a solid tenant.

“I’m excited to see something vibrant go in there,” Armstrong said.

The addition of the Dram Shop to the neighborhood also has nearby business owners excited, Armstrong said. Great Burn Brewery owners expect that the Dram Shop will attract a clientele that will come drink at their brewery too. And Southgate Mall is looking forward to having a tavern nearby because the new AMC Theater didn’t get a liquor license, as its owners had hoped.

“Everyone is anxious to have you fill that gap for patrons who want to have a beer or cider before they go in,” Armstrong said.

An architect’s rendering of the new Dram Shop location. (Missoula Redevelopment Agency)

Millar said he looked at both the south and northwest ends of town when considering a new location.

“In terms of us being able to find a commercial location that was viable, the south end seemed to work a lot better. And the overall character of it seemed to suit our business a little better,” Millar said.

Council member Heather Harp credited the development of the Mary Avenue connector road through the mall property with making the location attractive to Millar and future tenants who may join new businesses like the theater and Lucky’s Market that have recently moved in.

“When we talk about how we use our (Urban Renewal Districts) and our (Tax Increment Financing) funding, this is the prime example of why we do these projects, because it does bring activity into these nodes of our community that have been under-utilized,” Harp said. “I look forward to seeing what else follows you, because this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

On Thursday, Millar got more good news from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, which gave his business a $50,000 Façade Improvement Program grant for the new location.

Millar doesn’t plan to change much about the Paxson Avenue building, but will build a patio to provide outdoor seating and provide street appeal, so the money will be put to use.

MRA executive director Ellen Buchanan echoed Armstrong’s excitement, saying the project will create new jobs and improve the area, possibly attracting more businesses.

On Thursday, the MRA also gave Todd Frank, owner of The Trail Head, approval to move forward with his plans to buy a warehouse near Southgate Mall and turn it into a huge water recreation store, hopefully in time for next year’s boating season.

MRA granted Frank the right to proceed with his project without prejudice. That enables him to submit an application for funding at a later time, though there’s no guarantee the request will be funded.