Stuart Morton and his partner, Don Coffman, hated to see the nice buildings their long-time friend, the late Doug Allard, had built, sit empty on the highway for several years. When they had the chance to buy Allard’s Stage Stop in St. Ignatius, they jumped right into cleaning it up and re-opening. Now renovated, the business is bustling, from the motel at one end to the Huckleberry Jam Factory on the other.
The multi-service business opened in phases, starting with the convenience store and gas station in January, as they worked on remodeling and opening the motel. What is now a candy store was “all full of junk,” and now it is cozy and beautiful.
“I like a candy store!“ Stuart said, unabashed. He says he has probably been to 50 of them in the last two years, four of them in Europe. When the candy store went out of business in Arlee, he saw an opportunity to have one in his home town. Specialties now include candy bouquets and fudge from the Sweet Barn in Lolo. Eventually, he says, they intend for their kitchen in the back of the jam factory to make some of that fudge.
The trading post that once occupied what is now the candy and gift store lives on, with buffalo skulls, native art, and turquoise and silver jewelry, plus much more. The upstairs art gallery showcases local artist Juanita Thames and Jerry Krantz, a St. Ignatius graduate now of Great Falls.
Stuart has a “year-round vision,” he says, offering local things to local customers as well as items of interest to visitors. “You have to find that balancing act,” he says, pointing out beads, teas, huckleberry products and locally made lotions that have been popular with both.
“People need these things, and they were not available in St. Ignatius,” he says. “We change as we go to make sure we offer what people are looking for.”
The Huckleberry Jam Factory is the latest to open, last June. Stuart feels lucky to have found Ada Hostetler, most recently of Cornerstone Pizza baking fame. She and Lou Pinelli, a family friend who came out from the east coast area, jumped in to help get the jam kitchen up and running. Delicious as the pies are, with perfect flaky crusts, Ada and Stuart both say they continue to work on their recipes, which includes a lot of delicious “taste testing.”
There’s always something new on the horizon. An orchard out back has been trimmed and restored.
“We will have apples this fall. We have an apple press, and we’ll have our own product this fall,” Stuart said.
Never one to rest, he anticipates having a six- or eight-unit RV park in the back, and “maybe a couple buffalo.”