DILLON — The lore is that the idea to put a Patagonia outlet store in this cowboy town started over a beer after a day of fly-fishing.

Yvon Chouinard, founder of the outdoors clothing company and a passionate fly-fisherman, had spent the day on one of Beaverhead County’s legendary trout streams with a friend when the talk turned to his company.

Beth Sullivan, Dillon store manager, said it’s all true.

“They were yucking it up, having a beer and having a good time when someone said ‘Why don’t you open a store here,’” Sullivan said.

Chouinard liked the area and said why not, and not long thereafter the store opened on South Idaho Street, right in the heart of town. More than two decades later the Dillon Patagonia is going strong and has outgrown its crowded digs.

To that end, the store located at 34 N. Idaho St. is moving a block south to 16 S. Idaho, which to locals is the old NAPA Auto Parts store. It will gain space and is moving into a historic building that’s been restored into a beautiful, energy efficient space.

CULTURE CLASH

The Patagonia store in Dillon has always been an enigma in a town where Wranglers, cowboy hats and boots are the standard garb.

Then there’s Patagonia, the upscale brand for the mountain jock crowd. The company specializes in the parkas, long underwear, pants and other clothes that active people wear while scaling peaks, ripping through powder on skis or traveling the world in search of adventure.

And the company has made no secret of its environmental and sustainability views,

promoting causes ranging from land conservation in South America to recycling plastic bottles as material for its clothes.

Sullivan, a native of Ventura, Calif., where Patagonia is based, said it was a clash of cultures when she came to work in Dillon in 1990. Yet it’s worked out.

“Early on there were some concerns with our sustaina-bility policies,” she said. “But over the years we have found a niche in our community.”

SALES RUSH

The company has embraced Dillon and done things to be part of the community, including charity and town enhancement projects.

Marty Malesich, Dillon mayor, said when the city was about to put concrete over a small triangle of its property between streets on the west side of town, Patagonia asked if it could make it nicer. Store employees planted native flowers and have kept it up and Malesich said it looks far better than it would have.

They also have given deals to the Beaverhead Search and Rescue members and other projects, Malesich said.

“They’re an integral part of our community,” he said. “They do other things besides just sell their clothing and we’re happy to have them.”

That’s especially the case when the store holds its three sales every year, on President’s Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day. The events draw swarms of 20-somethings from Missoula, Bozeman and beyond.

“You know when there’s a sale going on — people are backed up a block,” Malesich said.

Those people also fill up their gas tanks, eat at local restaurants and some even stay in hotels, Sullivan said. Over the years they’ve had many Canadians come down for the sales, making it into a weekend.

SPACE NEEDED

The old store’s floor space came in at 4,400 square feet and during the sales the store gets jammed with people, said Nancy Ferguson, floor leader. The new store has 5,500 square feet of floor space.

It also has three cash registers, up from two, and four dressing rooms, which is one more than the current store.

“On a regular day, it will make absolutely no difference,” Ferguson said. “But on the big three sales it will make a huge difference.”

The new store, in keeping with the company’s values, utilizes as much recycled material and energy efficient measures as possible. Its wooden floors are entirely recycled material and the lights use motion sensors. It includes a shower for employees to ride their bikes or run to work.

The building has 5,500 square feet of storage in the basement and the upstairs includes offices and a break room. Sullivan said the improvement is dramatic.

“These dressing rooms are about the size of my office now,” she said.

DILLON FIXTURE

The new façade has the Patagonia logo in front of the building, as well as the ghost sign from the old Dillon Cash Grocery that occupied the space decades ago. Sullivan said it makes the front busy looking, but after several people asked, they had to keep the old sign as a reminder of the building’s rich history.

Over the years, Patagonia has blended in enough that even ranchers come in looking for a jacket or other clothing.

“We used to joke around and ask if we could remove the tag because they didn’t want Patagonia on it,” she said.

— Reporter Nick Gevock may be reached at nick.gevock@mtstandard.com

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