My wife and I moved to Bozeman in 1993. At that time, the only chain stores in town were K-Mart, Safeway and Albertson’s. Huffine was a two lane road and North 19th ended at Durston. Bozeman truly was the typical small town.

As the years went by, the lure of a simpler life brought more and more people to “The Last Best Place on Earth.” As the town grew in population it began to attract the attention of some big brand names. Wal-Mart took a look at Bozeman and decided to take a chance and the floodgates opened.

The extension of North 19th from Durston to I-90 became big box heaven. Along came Costco, Target, PetSmart, two Staples, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Linen’s and Things, Lowe’s and Home Depot. Hotel chains like Hilton opened two locations, and Hampton Inn also made the investment in Bozeman. Kohl’s was able to weather the city’s landscape police and finally open their location along with Rosauer’s.

Brand name eateries, Johnny Carino’s, Applebee’s, and Famous Dave’s, joined the community. Each brand name began staking out its specific target markets and adding to the choices for Bozeman diners.

The growth of Bozeman was certainly not lost on the financial community. Existing banks like First Security, and First Interstate began a major expansion of branches around the city and county. New banks like Stockman Bank, Big Sky Western Bank, Norwest became Wells-Fargo— all began the attraction of current and new depositors.

Is Growth Good?

The short answer is yes, and no. For locals who grew up here, I’m guessing it’s sad to see their small town turn into something that’s hard to recognize. For those who moved from larger metropolitan areas, they might be happy to see some of the old familiar names. Either way, there is no question that Wal-Mart and Costco have had a major impact on the economy of Bozeman.

Before Costco opened in Bozeman, many folks loaded up the family and headed out to Billings for the monthly shopping spree. Now, Bozeman is the destination for many shoppers from the surrounding counties. Those extra shoppers bring a large influx of cash to the city, by not only making their Costco run, but also spending additional dollars at restaurants and local merchants.

Bozeman is very fortunate. Most towns that are the target of big box stores see their downtown's turn into modern day ghost towns. Thankfully, that’s not the case in Bozeman. In spite of intense competitors, Bozeman’s downtown is vibrant and healthy thanks to local support.

I guess the bottom line is — growth is inevitable. According to local news sources, Olive Garden, Cabela's, and other name brands are taking another look at Bozeman for possible expansion. Like it or not, business goes where there is a market, and Bozeman is a very fast growing market. Instead of living in the past you’ll probably be a lot happier if you embrace the future. A small town can still be a small town. It all depends on how you look at it.

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