Office City and Missoula Textile Services celebrate their 100th anniversaries
We don’t often think about what life was like for the townsfolk who took up this very space in the early 1900s. Their existence—perhaps riding down these streets in their horse-drawn carriages, bustling down the sidewalks, working labor-intensive mill, farming, or mining jobs—seems as inconsequential to our lives today as the details from an old novel you enjoy, then place face-down on the coffee table.
But this year, as two downtown businesses celebrate their 100th anniversary, the past doesn’t seem so far off. Both Office City (formerly Office Supply Co.) and Missoula Textile Services are still in full operation. Better yet? They’re flourishing. Their continued success connects us to a distant way of life, highlights the practical changes of our culture, and is a testament to their own adaptability.
Office City: Still Supplying Offices
Founded in 1916 by Joseph M. Dixon, a former governor of Montana, Office City’s original function was as a book supplier to Montana State University, Missoula’s local university at the time. They were quick to diversify their inventory by offering paper, writing instruments, ink, and other paraphernalia, which customers could conveniently pick up at the downtown store.
These days, Richard Hughes, whose grandfather Claude Elder purchased the store from Dixon in 1920, now operates the store along with his wife, JoAnn, and their son and daughter, Brian and Shannon, at the same 115 W. Broadway location. Although their business model has changed somewhat—they now feature a well-developed online ordering system and same-day delivery, are an authorized dealer for major office furniture supplier Steelcase, and work with one of the largest buying groups in the country to bring low-priced supplies to Missoula—in large part, Office City still offers the same staple supplies: pen, paper, and ink.
Simple office instruments are a staple, without which we would lose our ability to conduct business and connect with one another—and it’s been this way since long before Office City first opened its doors. In some ways, Office City’s continued success is an indicator of the value of written communication over the last century. When the Depression hit in the late 1920s, Office City actually flourished: Migrant workers who headed West in search of fortune afforded the small expense of correspondence materials for the very important purpose of writing letters to loved ones back home. Afterward, pen and paper facilitated the creation of new business deals that would rejuvenate the economy. In the 1940s, letters again connected families separated by World War II.
The last 40 years or so—or even the last 10 years—have indeed produced new developments in the field of office technology, but offices aren’t going anywhere. In fact, Richard noted, people actually spend more time in an office now than ever before. Office City has had to change with the times, but they’ve found plenty of ways to be successful. Their website has upward of 40,000 products, including cameras, printers, and scanners. They also focus heavily on customer service, offering same-or next-day delivery within Missoula, prices that often beat big box stores like Staples, and the friendly greetings they’ve been known for since the beginning.
“People are the constant that keep us going. Businesses don’t survive without good people,” said Richard, referring both to the 18 employees who hold a combined 300 years of experience and the local customers who have remained loyal throughout the years. Their plans for the future are to continue to serve Missoula through the next century and beyond.
Despite more technology and less traditional paper methodology in offices, Richard is doubtful that a paperless office will ever be mainstream or really fully achievable, especially for larger companies. But if that ever becomes the case, it’s clear that Office City has already begun to gracefully adapt by building up an inventory of excellent technological supplies and ergonomic furniture solutions.
Missoula Textile Services: 101 Years of Laundry
Full disclosure: Missoula Textile Services is actually celebrating their 101st anniversary this year. In 1915, Joseph Hagan founded Missoula Laundry at 111 Spruce St., where the newest incarnation of the shop still stands. Since more formal dress styles of the early 20th century necessitated specialized and particular laundry routines, the original business focused on household laundry service. At the time, it made sense for most people to outsource this work.
But as clothing textiles diversified, two things happened. First, technology improved, bringing us practices like dry cleaning as well as home washing machines. Second, increasingly more relaxed dress styles midway through the century spurred people to break with these laundry traditions. By then, Missoula Textile Services had already serviced hundreds of military uniforms during World War II, and so began the shift toward the capital that would sustain their business into the 21st century: commercial uniform and linen laundry.
Meanwhile, the business itself has stayed within the family. Joseph Hagan retired and sold his business to his nephews, Herman, Karl, and Larry Tropel, in 1947. Herman Tropel’s grandson, John Becker, the managing partner of Missoula Textile Services since 2003, has worked at the laundry since 1987 and has seen his fair share of change.
Today, in addition their drop-off laundry service and dry cleaning for the average consumer, the company has switched to a model where they own the linens and uniforms they rent out to their commercial clients as well as laundering them. A service worker who needs a uniform can rent it from Missoula Textile Services and receive a freshly laundered set each week, handing over their soiled clothes to be washed and returned the following week. The practice enables much more efficiency on the business and delivery end of the service while keeping the service convenient to the customer.
You’ve probably walked past the Missoula Textile Services building hundreds of times, and yet you likely have no idea what lies behind those brick walls—a factory of Willy Wonka-sized proportions. There are huge air-operated lifts, an overhead rail system transporting 250 pound bags of laundry hanging from the ceiling, folding machines, conveyors carrying freshly steamed clothing from one side of the building to the other, and so much more.
“We have been fortunate to work with tons of amazing businesses in town, and one of our biggest challenges has actually been space,” said John. “We’re dedicated to staying downtown, so we have had to get really creative to allow that to happen.”
As with Office City, it all comes back around to the people who make the company glow. Missoula Textile Services employees between 55-60 employees, a significant portion of whom have worked there at least 15 years—some for nearly 50. When you support either one of these businesses, your dollars work to support individuals next door, sustain the economy, and keep the community vibrant.
“As people start to discover the beauty of Montana,” said John, “we can expect to see more service businesses, which are really our main clients. We’re looking forward to continuing to do a great job as a mainstay of the community and a strong part of Missoula’s roots.”