On average, Missoula adds 20 new businesses to its downtown district each year.
Believe it or not, this year the city is right on track. By the end of 2020, there will be 20 new businesses despite the gamble of setting up shop during a pandemic.
Linda McCarthy, Executive Director of the Downtown Missoula Partnership said Missoula has a sort of entrepreneurship ecosystem.
“There's a lot of support for locally owned businesses and new businesses,” said McCarthy.
When asked what makes Missoula such a desirable place to open a new business, McCarthy couldn’t pinpoint one specific thing.
“We offer predictability, we have a very solid downtown master plan, we have over $800 million of investments over the last 12 years. We have a very good network of streets and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. We've had a very strong economy in that startup space and that technology space, and, you know, we've always had a community that very much supports their neighbors and supports locally owned businesses and supports entrepreneurship. Those are things that set us apart from other places.”
The list goes on, and it was ultimately a mix of all these perks along with Missoula’s atmosphere and landscape that drew European couple Claudia and Francesco Ducrey to Montana.
After visiting The Last Best Place each summer for 20 years, they made the move, and now call Montana their home.
“We understood 20 years ago that this was the place,” said Claudia Ducrey. “It's quite unique, and when you feel at home there's nothing you can do to explain it.”
The Ducreys are one of the 20 entrepreneurs to embark on a new business venture in downtown Missoula this year.
You can find the blue umbrellas of their “bean to bar” chocolate operation on Front Street.
But the grand opening of Ducrey Chocolate has had its hiccups due to delays in the supply chain and sparse foot traffic downtown.
“All the sudden, there were many things missing,” said Ducrey. “Once we start doing the chocolate bars, I need to know where to put them. The packaging is late, the boxes are late, the carton is late, so all of that... I can start doing chocolate, but what do I do, I'm not gonna tell people to grab them with their hands.”
For now, Ducrey is focusing on their coffee sales. They also offer a number of treats and sandwiches sourced from other businesses throughout the region.
In two to three weeks, their organic chocolate will make its grand debut.
“We’re inventing a drink, a chocolate drink, in honor of Missoula and Mount Sentinel,” said Ducrey. This is merely one of the chocolatey creations she and her husband have in the works.
To open a new business during a pandemic is no walk in the park, but the Ducreys are embracing the challenge.
“This is a project that has been in my heart for a long time, and I will do everything that’s possible to make it work because I know that this is not here forever. This is going to rapidly change and we offer an excellent product so it's just a question of time,” said Ducrey.
Ducrey Chocolate is open daily at 311 East Front Street.