Montana has no sales tax, and you’ll begin to like the idea of provisioning for the holidays while on vacation.
Gifts and Souvenirs
There aren’t many places that evoke the Wild West as clearly as Montana, and a gift or souvenir that recalls the Western past makes a good keepsake. Almost every town will have a clothing store and saddlery featuring Western clothes. Pearl snap shirts, tooled leather belts, and other leather goods make nice and functional gifts. If you’re wondering why cowboys and cowgirls look so good in their jeans, it’s because the pants are Wrangler brand. Look for the Cowboy Cut jeans if you want to squeeze into something that’s bound to get attention when you get back home. Likewise, Montana is a good place to buy a pair of cowboy boots. Several saddleries make boots to order; be ready to mortgage your house to pay for them.
Although none of Montana’s Indian tribes has a long tradition of commercial arts or crafts, gift shops and galleries now feature the works of native artists. Look for silver or beaded jewelry and leather goods, as well as paintings on hide.
Other local artists and artisans show their works in local craft shops and galleries. Most of the larger towns across Montana—including Sidney, Miles City, Lewistown, Kalispell, Billings, and Glendive—have community art centers that feature the works of local people.
Montana is also a major center for Western art, especially for blue-chip bronze statuary and wildlife art. Bozeman, Livingston, Kalispell, Whitefish, Big Fork, and even such unlikely towns as Wisdom and Big Timber all feature world-class galleries.
Another good gift or souvenir idea is Montana food products. Native fruits and berries make up into delicious jams and jellies. Huckleberry and chokecherry products will make nice remembrances. Local honey is also common and easy to find. Local cherries and wild huckleberries find their way into a wide selection of candies and confections. On the other end of the food scale, dried jerkies and smoked fish are produced by small local companies.
Montana is a real mecca of recreation and sports, and several excellent manufacturers and stores have sprung up to serve the market. Again, without a sales tax, Montana may be a tempting place to buy these items.
Almost every little town in western Montana has a fly-fishing shop, complete with hand-tied flies and fancy rods and reels. The R. L. Winston fly rod company in Twin Bridges is especially famous, a place many anglers approach almost with the reverence of religious supplicants on a pilgrimage to a holy site.
Many ski shops turn into mountain bike shops by summer, and vice versa, and you can often get really good prices on skis or bikes if you visit Montana in the right season. Likewise, canoes and kayaks can get pretty cheap at the end of the season, when proprietors need to make room for snowboards.
While it’s not a piece of sporting gear that the average reader will use often, nothing says Montana quite like a handmade saddle. The state is home to several famous saddlers, who make saddles to order for professional cowboys, celebrity ranchers, and anyone else capable of paying for them. Expect a handmade saddle to start at around $2,500.
© W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell from Moon Montana, 7th Edition