Shopping Amish

Stocked with random foods and novelties, Mission Valley store draws a crowd

Story and photos by KELSEY NELSON

The Mission General Store in St. Ignatius, Mont., is “a jungle of a store with a country attitude,” says owner Delbert Bontrager.

He opened the place in 2003, modeling it on friend’s popular Amish store in Eureka. Stocked with unusual and sometimes random items, Amish-owned stories are rare. In fact, Bontrager and his friend operate two of only five Amish general stores in Montana.

“Where there are Amish or Mennonite communities, you can find these sorts of stores,” Bontrager said.

He runs his store with the help of a few family members and others from the local Amish community. With all of the stocking and unloading, the pace can be hectic, but the employees are loyal because the work is interesting.

“You make the normal fun,” says Rachel Bontrager, Delbert’s niece and employee.

Part of the fun is unpacking the hundreds of so-called “banana boxes” the store receives regularly.

These shipments, boxed up in Dole and Del Monte cardboard containers, are full of random foods and novelties that range from name-brand food items and out-of-season merchandise to gourmet foods like octopus, pig brains, seasonings, and syrups. The boxes may also contain teddy bears and buttons.

“You can’t control what’s going to be inside a banana box,” Delbert Bontrager says. “If you like something, we put on the shelves one day, (but) there’s no guarantee we’ll have it again. Here today, gone tomorrow.”

Many items in the store coast as much as 60 percent less than they would in typical grocery stores. Most breakfast cereals, for instance, cost less than $2 per box.

One exception to the reduced prices is the store’s supply of famous Troyer’s meats and cheeses. These high-quality products come from a family owned business in Ohio with deep Mennonite and Amish traditions.

“Some of these things are what we’ve grown up with back East,” Bontrager says.

Mission General Store offers something for everyone in the community, he adds. The concept of Amish general stores may be new to Montana, but Bontrager says the store’s growing popularity store shows that the idea is catching on.