Sykes Reopens Historic Market

By Beacon Staff

There are regulars and then there’s Ray McMillan.

On a gray Thursday morning, McMillan, 90, sat at a small table at Sykes Grocery and Market and waited for a friend. Unlike most people who swing by the local landmark to pick up a few groceries or grab a bite to eat, McMillan remembers when penny candy was still just that, a penny. He remembers because he has been coming to the century-old establishment, which recently reopened its deli and grocery store, since 1936.

“I’ve been coming here for so long that it’s a second home,” McMillan said with a youthful chuckle.

In that time McMillan has seen a lot of change, but none quite as drastic as since Ray Thompson purchased the local landmark, located on the corner of Second Avenue and Second Street in downtown Kalispell, last summer. And even if McMillan said the improvements have been “uptown stuff,” they haven’t changed the character of the establishment.

Keeping the character of Sykes was critical to Mike Thompson, who co-owns and helps manage the store with his brother and father. In the summer of 2010, the Thompsons purchased the store and restaurant and quickly began some much-needed renovations. Sykes was owned and operated by Doug and Judy Wise beginning in 1945, but as the Wises got older the demands became too much and they sold the establishment – which also houses a pharmacy – in 2008 to a Realtor. Hit with the economic downturn, the store limped along and by 2009 it looked as if Sykes could close its doors for good.

For a few weeks after Ray Thompson purchased Sykes in 2010, the restaurant closed, but was reopened by October of that year. The grocery store then underwent an extensive restoration and reopened earlier this month. Mike said they now have the finances to give the store the future it deserves.

“Doug ran it like a nonprofit,” Mike said. “But we’re trying to keep the doors open and make a profit.”

Part of the future includes the addition of apartments above the store and restaurant that are scheduled to open sometime next year. Below the grocery store, a large conference room is under construction and will be rented out in the future. But even with the additions and renovations, what hasn’t changed is the people.

Folks like Gerry Banzet, Gary VanFrachen and David Ricket, who can often be found around a long table across from the bar in the restaurant. Every weekday, and sometimes on Saturday and Sunday, the three guys join a group of almost a dozen people who get together to talk, drink coffee and perhaps grab a bite. Banzet said the friendly atmosphere always attracts a “mishmash of people.”

Diners enjoy lunch in the renovated restaurant area of Sykes Market and Grocery in Kalispell.

“We need someone to pick on, so we pick on each other,” Ricket joked. “Everyone’s welcome.”

Jayson Peters, who manages the grocery store and restaurant, said it’s the environment that has made Sykes the local landmark it is. Peters said even if the building is changing, it will always remain the same place he remembered as a kid.

“Sykes is about the people who come here,” Peters said. “During this transition I’ve asked a lot of locals about why they come back … and the biggest thing that makes Sykes is the people.”

Both Peters and Thompson said the improvements made now will keep the grocery store and restaurant open for years to come, something the regulars – most of whom are on a first-name basis with employees – look forward to.

McMillan said he celebrated his 90th birthday at the restaurant and, if everything goes according to plan, he will celebrate his 100th there, too; at a place marked with a sign that reads “nobody goes home a stranger.”

“That’s the type of character that has always been here,” Mike said. “Always friendly and welcoming.”

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