Just before 7 a.m. on Tuesday, the sun is up and working hard to burn off fog that has settled over the Polebridge Mercantile.
Addie Cleveland walks to the front door and unlocks it for the day’s first customer, flipping the sign in the window from closed to open.
Staff members have been at the store since 5 a.m. making the Merc’s famous pastries. Tuesdays are special because not only are workers making treats for the store, they also are baking items for the Whitefish Farmer’s Market.
On a busy summer day, the Merc will sell 300 huckleberry bear claws out of its small kitchen.
This summer the Mercantile celebrates 100 years as the commercial and social centerpiece of the North Fork.
According to an informational poster about the W.L. Adair General Mercantile Historic District, from the beginning the Mercantile was “the social and business hub of the North Fork and a gateway to the new national park across the river.”
The Merc was built by North Fork pioneer Bill Adair in 1914 with its trademark false-front Old West theme. Adair’s cabin, which is now the Northern Lights Saloon, was built in 1911. The original barn burned down in the Red Bench Fire in 1988.
The Merc begins its second century with a new owner, Will Hammerquist.
Hammerquist is the sole proprietor, but he prefers to think of himself as the current caretaker.
“Everything that we are doing now is only possible because of the hard work that was done in the 100 years leading up to this point,” he said.
For example, he said, five or six years ago there were significant infrastructure needs that then owners Stuart Reiswig and Flannery Coats were able to address.
“Things were getting tired,” said Hammerquist. “The bakery has always done well, but the generator, the plumbing, the septic system, these things had to be updated.”
Hammerquist said the ambiance of the store and the success of the Mercantile are based on the people.
“We have tremendous local support,” he said. “But really, it’s all about the team we have here. We have bakers that come back season after season. They really are the heart of it. When you are up here, you’re family.”
Hammerquist also takes a lot of pride in being part of the Glacier Park experience.
“There are people who have spent years saving up for the experience of a lifetime, a trip to Glacier National Park. The scenery is a big part of that,” he said. “Our store, our service, we are a part of making that experience.”
The store’s summer hours are from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
In October that is likely to slow down to 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and after Thanksgiving it will be transition to being open on weekends only. This year the Mercantile will stay open for weekends all winter with store hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
Former owner and current Operations Manager Stuart Reiswig rolls out dough for another batch of sticky buns on Tuesday morning, July 1, at the Polebridge Mercantile. The store opens at 7, but pastry baking starts at 5 a.m. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)
Mike Huey of Algonquin, Illinois and his son Collin, 14, look over their pastry choices and get recommendations from new owner Will Hammerquist, at the Polebridge Mercantile on Tuesday, July 1. This is the 100th year of operation for the iconic store. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)
Addie Cleveland cuts a tray of brownies into individual pieces on Tuesday, July 1, at the Polebridge Mercantile. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)
A tray of fresh huckleberry fritters has a layer of icing added to them on Tuesday, July 1, at the Polebridge Mercantile. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)
From left, Philip Walker of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and his father John Walker of San Francisco, California, pull up outside the Polebridge Mercantile on Tuesday, July 1, and immediately consult their map. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)
Detail of the old fashioned till at the Polebridge Mercantile. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)
New owner Will Hammerquist on the front porch of the Polebridge Mercantile on Tuesday, July 1. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)