Museum exhibit explores Sandpoint’s mercantile history

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

As President Calvin Coolidge said in 1925, “the chief business of the American people is business.” The same could be said of Sandpoint, dating back more than 100 years, when the community was as much a mercantile center as a railroad hub and logging town.

The Bonner County Historical Society and Museum is paying homage to this entrepreneurial tradition with the unveiling of a new exhibit Thursday, Dec. 16, titled “The One Who Went to Market: The History of Mercantile.”

Heather Upton, executive director of BCHS, said museum staff is “thrilled” to launch the new exhibit, which also serves as the general opening of the museum for the season. 

Not only will the museum display visual records of unique stores from Sandpoint’s history, but explore the stories of the people who were behind the scenes, as well as items such as catalogs and other material that illustrates the experience of shopping in bygone eras.

“That’s a very interesting and very long history,” Upton said, referring specifically to legacy merchants like Jennested and Larson’s, as well as stores like E.E. Teape, Piggly Wiggly, Economy Grocery, Crescent Pharmacy, Northern Mercantile Co. and others that once filled downtown Sandpoint.

“You could get everything you could imagine in those two blocks,” she said. “There was no need to go to Spokane. … You could get everything from a canary to a piece of candy.”

Beyond the storefronts, Upton emphasized that what Sandpoint merchants were really doing was building “the heart of the community. They were creating a community, and it’s really the people who made those stores so special.”

The exhibition will be introduced as part of the BCHS Holiday Open House, which is scheduled to run from 3:30-5 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 16 at the museum, 611 S. Ella Ave. In addition to “The One Who Went to Market,” a collection of children’s books will be on display, with Humbird Coffee for sale.

Upton is excited to see how the exhibit progresses into the future, as she hopes to see what kind of other material may surface from locals.

“Everytime I do an exhibit it’s a beginning,” she said.

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