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Big Dipper set to open new Midtown location, celebrate 25 years in business

Charlie Beaton, owner and founder of Big Dipper, joined his team on Tuesday to place the finishing touches on the company’s new Midtown location near Southgate Mall. The shop opens on Friday. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

After years of planning, months of construction and a pandemic, Big Dipper Ice Cream is ready to open the doors to its second Missoula location.

When it does this Friday, the event will mark the local company’s 25th anniversary.

“We started in June of 1995 in the back of the KettleHouse,” said Charlie Beaton, founder and owner of Big Dipper. “My wife and I were just talking yesterday. We did this exact thing 25 years ago. It’s kind of neat.”

Beaton set his eyes on a second location years ago and chose the Midtown district and a small retail center near Southgate Mall. The area has enjoyed something of a revival in recent years and is poised for additional change.

Bridge Pizza moved into its second location across from the mall last year, and the Trail Head opened a new location nearby. The Dram Shop renovated space near the mall for its second location as well, and Big Dipper will take up shop next door.

“I felt like there was a lot of development going on toward the south side of town,” Beaton said. “We felt that if we didn’t do it, someone else would. We’ve always wanted to do a second store where there would be some indoor seating. The success of some of my other friends’ businesses on that side of town made us think a little more about it.”

Nearby, SCHEELS is constructing its new location in the former JCPenney location, and other projects are rumored. While the pandemic has put a pinch on business, Beaton holds an optimistic view of the district’s future and that of Southgate Mall.

“That whole side of town, the South Hills and Bitterroot is underserved a little bit,” Beaton said. There’s some space left next to us. I’ve heard of some rumors of things but nothing solid. There’s a SCHEELS going in across from us and potentially more activity at the mall. It’s a strange time with everything going on.”

Crews hoist the new Big Dipper sign in place on Tuesday. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Beaton took steps to begin renovating the new location in December and launched construction in January. Two months later the pandemic hit and businesses were forced to close under state health orders.

While renovations continued, the pace of work slowed down, delaying Big Dipper’s planned opening by several weeks. But when the doors do open this week, patrons will find a pleasing retro finish cast in white and blue, along with Big Dipper’s fabled ice cream menu.

“We had to have less workers in the space for a while and had delays on materials, and that held us back a little bit,” Beaton said. “We had to start paying rent. Every day in the summer we’re not selling ice cream is money we don’t make back up in the winter. We’ve been anxious to get open.”

As construction went forward, Big Dipper’s original location on Higgins Avenue recalibrated the way it did business. It began taking orders online and over the phone and found success in doing so.

With restrictions lifted, the customers have returned. It hasn’t been a bad run for a couple that just wanted to pay their rent 25 years ago when they launched their business.

“It has been pretty good, though it’s not quite where it normally would be,” said Beaton. “We were able to adjust a little bit doing some online ordering. People are eager to get out of their houses and ice cream is a safe bet.”