Local Knowledge - Eagle's Curio Store
Where the West Begins: Eagle's Store Centennial in West Yellowstone
Ed and Sis Eagle in front of Eagle's Curio Store in 1935. Currently Menzel's Curious (Kurt) and Yellowstone Motorhed (Craig) are owned and operated in this location by sons of Rose (Eagle) Menzel and Hermie Menzel.
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WALKING INTO THE OLD SODA FOUNTAIN AT EAGLE'S STORE IN WEST YELLOWSTONE, MONTANA, IS A NOSTALGIC EXCURSION. The well-worn swiveling stools that line the counter have stories to tell. They have been the seat of West Yellowstone’s beginnings back to the days when the town was the last outpost for supplies to travelers heading into Yellowstone National Park. And in the mirror of the classic 1910 mahogany bar are the reflections of the thousands of customers who have returned to this place to share a treat. They’d sip on malts or sarsaparilla or indulge in the signature ice cream sundae, topped with “Mom Eagle’s” secret chocolate sauce. One hundred years later, they still do.
This iconic store, built of classic log has long sold the curios and keepsakes of a visit to Yellowstone National Park from the most prominent corner of the region’s best-known gateway community. Eagles Store celebrates 100 years of business this June, along with the town of West Yellowstone. Owned and operated by the Eagle family for three generations, the store is the oldest business in town and that fact embodies the spirit of West Yellowstone.
That fact also adds to the memories for so many folks and has given the Eagles a bird’s-eye-view to a unique side of tourism in the region.
“The best thing about my job is the stories I hear from the customers,” says Karen Eagle, general manager of Eagle’s Store and granddaughter of the founders, Sam and Ida Eagle.
“I hear people sit at the soda fountain telling their kids about their own memories of grandfathers bringing them here,” she adds with a smile.
A third-generation Eagle, Karen carries on a family legacy that began with her pioneering grandparents. She grew up playing with cousins in and around the store and started working at the soda fountain when she was 13 years old. All the Eagle kids and extended family grew up this way.
The tradition of working the business has been passed from one family member to another over the last century and they all take sincere pride in the store as a part of their heritage. Over the years the business has grown from one room into a sprawling shop that carries kitschy curios, fishing tackle, high-end Western wear and fleece, alongside unusual jewelry, Native American arts and crafts made by regional artists. Karen cites the diverse selection in the store as the key to remaining successful in a competitive market.
The number of gift shops, restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores and gear shops has clearly made West Yellowstone’s retail market a challenge for businesses vying for seasonal visitors, but the Eagle’s Store remains a landmark. It’s clear the Eagle family carries the same hard-working ethic and ingenuity that launched the business from the start, when Sam and Ida Eagle advertised “dusters” for rent for tourists who got off the train and boarded stagecoaches to Yellowstone.
Truth be told, West Yellowstone was never intended to be a town. It was the end of the road. It was the middle of nowhere.
After the founding of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, the area simply marked a boundary between the park and U. S. Forest Service land. Government officials envisioned a few roadside businesses here that would sell supplies to travelers or work crews heading into Yellowstone. But at the insistence of a handful of optimistic trailblazers, the Forest Service granted a permit to plot the six-block town site in 1907. The Union Pacific Railroad was extending the Oregon Short Line to Yellowstone’s western boundary, and a town suddenly made economic sense.
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eagle store family memories
Posted By jack on Dec 14, 2009
I was born in Bozeman in 1919 and lived there until 1940
the Eagle family lived nearby on south third avenue. Rose was a school classmate and was at or near the top of the class all the way through. Her husband to be Hermie Menzel was a good friend and fellow cornet player in the school band. I miss them and the wonderful growing up time we had in God's country.