An Uptown institution, the famed M&M Cigar Store — which many argue is the real heart of Butte — closed its doors Tuesday night following a bankruptcy filing by its longtime operator Charles Bugni.
Bugni filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy Tuesday afternoon in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Butte, ending an era much to the city's and employees' disbelief. (See related story on Page A9).
"It was not profitable any more," Bugni, 78, told The Montana Standard Tuesday afternoon as a few people lingered over the famed M&M burgers while a woman shed tears nearby.
At 7:17 p.m., the last call for drinks was made, and the doors were locked a few minutes after 8 p.m. The bar was full of people — some crying, other having Bugni autograph their beer cans — but they left orderly when asked. People trying to steal mementoes — like the giant photographs — were stopped by bankruptcy trustee Bill Kebe, and most items were returned.
Bugni explained that he had sunk money into the business he has leased for a total of 27 years and could not continue. The M&M employs about 20 full-time and part-time employees.
However, owners of the M&M, Patricia Lisac, and her mother, Patricia Delmoe, said they have taken great pains to keep Bugni in business and the M&M open, but that Bugni hadn't paid regular rent since 1997 and owed back taxes. The two had tried several things to work with Bugni to keep the M&M's doors open.
"We had meeting after meeting," Lisac said Tuesday afternoon.
The bar and eatery, at 9 N. Main St., had been having financial difficulties for many months and the owners were forced to sue Bugni over back rent. A hearing was to be held in Anaconda Wednesday before Judge Ted Mizner in reference to a default judgment prior to Tuesday's filing.
"This is the last thing in the world I wanted to do was to close the doors of the M&M," explained Lisac, who said that her late father Dan Delmoe poured four decades of his life into the business. She added that she was saddened by the closure, but that as the building's owners they had no choice and couldn't continue to carry Bugni.
"We have so many problems in Butte right now and it's just another slap in the face," she said. "We never wanted this to happen."
In the court papers, Bugni listed owing $158,000 to various creditors including $80,000 to Lisac and Delmoe for back rent on the M&M. Other big-ticket expenses included $25,768 to Lyons Construction for sewer work, $15,300 to Butte-Silver Bow for back taxes and $4,000 to Butte Produce.
Among the assets listed in the paperwork are the businesses' liquor license valued at $35,000 and liquor and food inventory of $2,000. Other items listed include exempt personal property and secured personal property of a residence located at Juniper Acres.
Chapter 7 is referred to as a liquidation bankruptcy and will wend its way through bankruptcy court in Butte, a process that could take a few months if it goes smoothly.
Bugni said that the M&M had ceased to make money, due in part to a lack of clientele.
"Look around," Bugni said gesturing to the bar that had about 12 customers on Tuesday afternoon. "There are no people."
He added that the M&M is old-time Butte, dependent on older men for its livelihood.
"This isn't a young man's joint, and the old-timers are passing away," he said.
And while many people expressed surprise at the closure, Bugni said that people knew the "handwriting was on the wall" and that the business was in trouble.
News of its impending closure flew through the grapevines in town Tuesday and Butte-Silver Bow officials were working to see if something could be done to help the M&M's situation.
"If there are retention issues, Butte-Silver Bow is very interested and with a phone call in a timely manner we could step in and help," said Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Judy Jacobson, who was eating lunch at the M&M Tuesday when she learned about the impending closure.
Lisac said that the M&M would remain closed for awhile at least, but that Destination Montana backers hold a buy-sell agreement on the historic building. That agreement has a June 6 the closing date. The Standard could not on Tuesday reach Barrett Singer of West Palm Beach, Fla., one of the principals involved in Destination Montana, seeking comment on the M&M's future.
Bugni had unsuccessfully tried to sell the business before bankruptcy. He also remarked that the building would require substantial work and money to bring it up to code if a new owner re-opens it.
As the longtime owner, Bugni said he is saddened by the closure of the M&M, which prided itself on never locking its doors. He said the M&M is a destination point that attracts regulars and tourists who drive to Butte just to experience breakfast at the M&M or a St. Patrick's Day.
"I think the M&M attracts more people Uptown than anyone else," he said.
— Reporter Leslie McCartney may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.