Oh, it was a glorious time to be alive.
As a 12-year-old who lived in Whitefish, Montana, in 72, it was the best place ever on the planet to grow up. In the middle of summer, there were a total of four cars parked on Main Street, and that was it. We would ride our bikes up and down the middle of Main Street for hours “look, no handsies!” (and no helmets either, for that matter; boy, were we dumb), but we had a blast in OUR TOWN.
We owned that town.
We also rode our bikes on the sidewalks, (an absolute no-no these days), but back then, there was no one to ride past or try to get around because there were very few folks on the sidewalk.
It was what it was; the population was 4000.
Back then, the entire county had only 40 realtors; now, there are about 1000 running around like used car salesmen stalking you, taking pictures of your house, calling you, mailing you, emailing you, and begging you to sell your house, and move to Iowa (and I bet half of them live in Whitefish).
Back in 72, it was just a lil ole regular town.
There were simple basic businesses (not like now with all of the Whitefish bourgeoisie upper ups snubbing their way around town). Now there are “boutique hotels.” What the heck is a boutique hotel anyway!? Good grief. There are WAY too many art galleries. There are WAY too many tourists.
And “Whitefish Mountain Resort.” What a confusing mess that is! All of a sudden, POOF- Big Mountain was gone! (Well, it wasn’t really gone; it’s still called “Big Mountain,” the actual Mountain because they lease it from the forest service but still, we don’t like that they changed it. And even crazier was the fact that back in 72 we used to hitchhike up to the top of Big Mountain from the bottom of the viaduct! A lot of kids did that and girls and young girls. What were our parents thinking? My mom used to say “They won’t kidnap you and take you anywhere because they are headed up to ski.” And she was right. No one ever bothered us back in 72.
Ok then. Ok……(boy how times have changed).
We locals don’t like change; we don’t like it at all. Many of my friends finally got fed up and moved. Some moved to Libby because it’s pretty down-home (even if there still is a bit of asbestos left floating around). Some moved to places like Wyoming because it’s just a little more cowpoke in many places there than Whitefish is now. It’s a lot more, in fact.
We loved the little hometown flavor of the place back in the day and meant that literally. Gordy’s Drive-In was the hot spot and especially for teens. We’d all gather there on a Friday night to make plans for the evening. There wasn’t a cell phone to be seen back in those days, so if you didn’t have it all mapped out for the entire evening, you were bound to ‘lose your people’ although we would drag up and down the two-block Main Street for hours, so all was not lost.
And speaking of food, back in the day there was “Coney Island Tuesday,” (at the A & W out on Hwy 93) and for a quarter, you got a hotdog smothered in cheese and onions, and you had to inhale it in 5 minutes and get back in time for the afternoon classes back in the town where the high school still is. A & W was South on 93 about where Pin n Cue is now, so you had to hustle to make it back on time for your next afternoon class.
Across the viaduct (where the picture of “Mother Mary” is now and has been for several decades that’s another story) was a Pizza Hut. Back in the day, Pizza Hut thought they’d make a killing on “all-you-could-eat Wednesday night Pizza” for $1.75. They were dead wrong; that lasted about 2 months and they stopped that special lickety split. Once every teenager in town found out about it they were about to lose the lease on their place. We would have pizza-eating contests and some kids would eat 80 pieces! I think my top count was 40; man kids are dumb.
We loved Sally’s Restaurant and Slusher’s Bakery where heaven lived in a maple bar and “The Place” that is now the Tap House (and was the home of the “Grinder” piles of meat on top of meat and more meat).
There was a jewelry store downtown that’s branding was “The Ketchup Bottle in the Window”. Well, I can tell you what they kept that stupid ketchup bottle in the window (the same exact one for more than 20 years) and I’m sure folks came to that store just to see if it was true. It was gross; who wants to buy jewelry when they have to walk past brown, rotting ketchup in the window to get inside?
Except for the jewelry store with the brown ketchup bottle and the bowling alley with the floating floor, most of the businesses were just normal mom-and-pop shops. There were things no one sees today like simple department stores and drug stores and hardware stores. My mom got so disgusted once the town started to grow and the touristy stores (eventually) replaced the hometown stores. “For goodness sakes, no one can buy a thread and needle here anymore; we have to go all the way to Kalispell!” (Back then Kalispell seemed a thousand miles away).
Yes, we were hicks and proud of it.
We owned that town and every inch of it.
Continue to follow Montana 1st News for more “Chronicles of Whitefish” in the future.