MISSOULA - The heart of Missoula is booming as the city’s downtown area saw dozens of new businesses open in 2022.
The record number was 36 openings in 2019 — the year before the COVID-19 pandemic — according to the Missoula Downtown Partnership.
Storefront Tea and Crepe is one of the 32 businesses that opened their doors in downtown Missoula in 2022. It’s not the only dessert shop in Missoula, but the owner says there’s something that separates it from the rest.
“There’s an ice cream store in downtown,” said Tea and Crepe owner Witao Wuan. “There’s a boba tea shop in downtown, too, but we’re the only ones that sell crepes. I would say our crepe is the best crepe in town.”
Wuan operated two other tea and crepe shops in North Dakota but after visiting Missoula, he fell in love with the place he now calls home. He started his dessert business on Dec. 1, 2022, primarily because of the city’s hospitality.
“People are more friendly [here] than in other states. I lived in California, Utah, Colorado… I’ve been to a lot of places, and this place is just different,” Wuan said.
But that’s just one of the businesses that opened in 2022 that contributes to the buoyancy of downtown.
"We really have seen a boom over the last 10 years in downtown Missoula," said Missoula Downtown Partnership Executive Director Linda McCarthy. “We had kind of a record year in 2022. We had 32 businesses opened their doors in downtown Missoula, which is higher than normal.”
The Missoula Downtown Partnership is primarily responsible for downtown advocacy, implementation of the Downtown Master Plan, service and support of membership, downtown marketing and events, and beautification of Missoula’s city center, according to Missoula Downtown.
“We did the first masterplan in 2008, we’ve been tracking business activity and investment in downtown Missoula and you do that for a variety of reasons,” McCarthy said. “You want to know what’s going on. You want to know when you have your highs and lows. And, you want to know how to serve the businesses that are moving into the downtown community.”
Missoula saw its second-highest number of openings since 2008 in 2022, according to Missoula Downtown Partnership. Of those 32 new businesses that opened last year, 12 are retail stores, five are food and beverage businesses, and 15 are categorized as services.
“It gives you a sense of what’s happening, what community vibrancy looks like and it tells you that downtown Missoula is still a pretty hot spot,” McCarthy said.
Only seven downtown businesses closed in 2022. McCarthy told MTN News that's about a 4:1 ratio of openings to closings versus the typical 2:1 ratio of openings to closings downtown.
Tea and Crepe is a member of the Missoula Downtown Partnership. Wuan said the membership boosted the store's revenue, despite the business’s slow start in December.
“After I joined the membership, our sales raised like 200% more than before,” Wuan said. “It’s helped a lot.”
The liveliness and success of downtown businesses don't happen by chance, McCarthy says it happens through planning.
“We have a community vision for downtown Missoula that everybody’s bought into. And when you have a community that really thinks forward and is more proactive than reactive, you can accomplish your greater goals," McCarthy said.
Downtown Missoula also saw $6.6 million in residential investments in 2022, which is down from $66 million in 2021. McCarthy explained this doesn't mean there’s a decrease in the appeal of downtown, but rather those major investments take time.
Read the full news release from the Missoula Downtown Partnership here.