Deer Lodge museum ready for tourism challenges ahead

Old Montana Prison and Auto Museum ready for tourism challenges ahead
Posted at 8:30 AM, Apr 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-23 10:30:46-04

DEER LODGE — A large part of economies in Montana towns such as Deer Lodge are dependent on tourism.

The coronavirus outbreak has significantly hindered business for the Old Montana Prison and Auto Museum. Employees were laid off on April 3 and the future held a lot of uncertainty. But thanks to some financial assistance, things may be back on the rebound.

“So, the payroll loan was a great gift to us. It got everybody working again with a paycheck because you really worry when all of your employees are let go," said the museum's operations director Sandy Pettey.

The museum will begin a re-hiring process this coming Monday of all its employees. That doesn’t mean things will go back to normal right away, despite the fact that people still eagerly await to walk through their front doors.

“I don’t think we’re going to open full tilt. I don't think people will be moving around as much. But there will still be people coming through," Pettey added. "I still have people with me closed trying to come through the prison."

Walking through the walls of history and a not-so-distant past drives people from all around the country to Powell County. While it’s great for business, internally there is some apprehension as to what could happen when the doors open back up.

“It’s interesting that we’re talking about re-opening and from our perspective it’s kind of an issue," said Pettey. "We have a lot of people that come from out of state, and they're coming from states that are heavily infected.”

Once it becomes official, it’ll be a gradual process of restoring normal operations at the museum. But in the back of Pettey’s mind are other businesses in Deer Lodge and beyond who have already felt the pinch.

“Well, we’ve already seen a restaurant close up completely and leave town, and we didn't have very many restaurants. So that really is a ding for us.”