License plates on cars parked at the Mission General Store in St. Ignatius read from as far as Arizona Saturday, as patrons took part in the 15th anniversary celebration of the community staple.
“This is our anniversary, also our customer appreciation day,” explained Delbert Bontrager, who owns the store with his wife, Ruth.
“This is to thank our loyal customers from far and wide, everybody, for coming out and shopping at the good old country store out here,” Bontrager said.
On any given day, Bontrager said that license plates from outside Montana can be found in the parking lot.
“It’s amazing how many tourists we get,” he said, adding that in the summer months upwards of five different state plates can be found at one time.
Bontrager said that 10-12 people work at the store, which is located at 61307 Watson Road.
Fifteen years ago, the store began as a discount bulk store, but through the years the Bontragers have added meats, cheeses, fresh produce, baking goods and even ice cream.
To show appreciation, the store offered multiple drawings for items at no cost to customers.
Each year, an Amish-crafted hickory rocking chair is up for the grand prize drawing, and this year ice cream scoops with wooden handles commemorating the store’s milestone were handed out, free of charge.
“It’s giving back what we’re after,” Bontrager said of the day. “It’s not always about taking. It’s about giving back.”
Bontrager shared that within the next year, he hopes to open another location with animal foods, about a half-mile from where the current location stands.
Helping to keep Bontrager company as he sliced cheese for customers was “Chris The Cheese Man,” who was present for the celebration for a second year.
Made out of different kinds of cheese, the sculpture was in honor of Bontrager’s father, named Chris.
“Dad worked here at the store” before his passing, Bontrager said.
The Mission General Store is open 9-5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9-5 p.m. Saturday and closed on Sunday.