General store is centerpiece of Amish community

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  • Two Amish girls pack up their buggy and leave the Mission General Store in St. Ignatius on March 13. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Mary Rose Bontrager makes sandwiches in the deli at the Mission General Store on Tuesday, March 15, in St. Ignatius.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Jars of jams and other items with the Mission General Store label on display at the store on Tuesday, March 15.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    The Mission General Store in St. Ignatius is well known for its cheeses and meats.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Rows of packaged bulk items at the Mission General Store in St. Ignatius. Items include rice mixes, dried soups, granola, chocolates, nuts and other treats.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • Two Amish girls pack up their buggy and leave the Mission General Store in St. Ignatius on March 13. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Mary Rose Bontrager makes sandwiches in the deli at the Mission General Store on Tuesday, March 15, in St. Ignatius.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 2

    Jars of jams and other items with the Mission General Store label on display at the store on Tuesday, March 15.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 3

    The Mission General Store in St. Ignatius is well known for its cheeses and meats.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 4

    Rows of packaged bulk items at the Mission General Store in St. Ignatius. Items include rice mixes, dried soups, granola, chocolates, nuts and other treats.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

It’s the 50 kinds of Amish-made cheese that draw many people to the Mission General Store for the first time.

Where else in the Mission Valley — or anywhere in Montana — can one find a Carolina Reaper cheddar or Scorpion cheddar, both unusual varieties flavored with the some of the hottest of hot peppers?

“The smoked horseradish cheddar is a favorite with customers,” store co-owner Ruth Bontrager pointed out.

The wide array of cheeses and deli meats are made by Troyer, a family-owned business in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country that ships its top-quality products to other family grocery stores nationwide.

Located at the center of a 125-member Amish community outside of St. Ignatius, the Mission General Store may be off the beaten track, but people find it and keep coming back. Business is brisk, especially during the summer months when Bontrager and her husband Delbert bump up the staff to six or eight workers.

While the store serves the Mission Valley Amish community, it also draws shoppers from the greater St. Ignatius area and passersby who see the sign on U.S. 93.

Mission General Store was started as a discount grocery by the Bontragers in 2003, but they quickly added a large deli with the signature Troyer products and the popular Montana-made Wilcoxson ice cream. The store also has a large selection of bulk and discounted foods that have passed their “best by” purchase dates.

“We check and make sure the products are good,” she assured.

“We try to get a lot of unique items,” she added, listing products such as Amish-made noodles, soup mixes, pickled mushrooms and peach salsa. Some products carry the Mission General Store name as a private label, but are made by Amish communities in Ohio.

The jams and jellies offer some unusual combinations. The “Hoppin’ Frog” jam, for example, blends figs, raspberries, orange peel and ginger. The “Traffic Jam” is a conglomeration of all kinds of fruit, including peaches and strawberries.

A nearby Amish-run greenhouse supplies fresh produce for the store.

Mission General Store has the feel of a country mercantile, and its inventory backs that up. Among the handmade salves is B & W Ointment, a product developed by Amish farmer and natural healer John Keim while he was searching for a cure for burns sustained by his son. When combined with burdock leaves, it reportedly offers an effective treatment for burns.

The store has a fabric section offering plain cloth to sew Amish dresses and suit fabric for the men’s attire.

There are quilt-making supplies, too. The Mission Valley Amish community holds a benefit quilt auction on the second Saturday each July. Proceeds from 100 quilts help buy schoolbooks and supplies for the 18 students.

A small furniture section in one corner of the store offers Amish-made rocking chairs and some unusual wall clocks.

Many of the Mission Valley Amish families own their own businesses. They adhere to the Amish way of life, getting around in horse-drawn carriages or by bicycle.

“If we go farther we hire a ride [in a car],” Bontrager said.

Mission General Store powers the store lights with a generator, but relies on the local power cooperative for electricity to run the coolers and freezers.

Amish homes in the Mission Valley get their electricity largely from generators. There are no computers or Internet access, though, following the Amish tradition.

“We do have phones, but no cellphones, only a land-line or a black-box phone that works off a cell tower,” Bontrager said.

Both Ruth and Delbert Bontrager were raised in Amish communities — Delbert in Topeka, Indiana, and Ruth in Shipshewana, Indiana. Delbert ventured to Montana at age 23, drawn by the allure of the mountains, and settled at the Rexford Amish community in 1988. Ruth had managed a fabric store in Indiana for a number of years, but also was struck by the beauty of the West.

They met in the West Kootenai Amish community, where Delbert was building log homes and Ruth worked in the log-home business office. After they married they settled in the Mission Valley with the goal of offering their neighbors wholesome Amish food.

Mission General Store is located at 61307 Watson Road near St. Ignatius.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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