Reality Check

John Dutton’s Montana

The "Yellowstone" effect is transforming Kalispell from a sleepy cowtown into a Botox-saturated bastion for the bourgeouis

By Tammi Fisher

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, my friend and I sauntered through downtown Kalispell and stopped for pedicures at a new nail shop. Ten years ago this nail shop likely would have been viewed as “too city” for quaint Kalispell, but now it’s a hopping joint. I am an avid people watcher, and in Kalispell it used to be that most of the people dressed like me on a weekend: flannel shirt, baseball hat and snow boots. It appears my fashion sense has gone the way of the buggy whip, as the patrons of the nail shop looked nothing like the Montana I know. Heavy Botox and filler, mixed with furry boots, name brand jackets and thousand-dollar purses filled the shop. Granted, most women my age have tried some Botox to eliminate the facial features of age our baseball caps don’t cover, but what I saw last Friday represented a new trend of limited facial expression and “poofy-ness” previously unseen in Kalispell. With clothing that matched the trend, it became clear that sleepy Kalispell has been awakened to an influx of folks who used to only populate the streets of Whitefish – and then, only in the winter for two weeks and two months in the summer. The proliferation of new folks to the valley might add some variety, but if my observations are accurate, we aren’t attracting run-of-the-mill middle-class folks anymore.   

I blame the popular show “Yellowstone.”  Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of any show starring Kevin Costner. But the irony of “Yellowstone” is the storyline is about a multi-generational family trying to keep Montana from being gentrified by out-of-state investors and developers. The show criticizes the transition of Bozeman from its former “cow town” to its current Vail-like, Urban Cowboy atmosphere. Costner’s character, John Dutton, the family head and rancher, was recently elected governor of Montana. His acceptance speech was riddled with comments about removing out-of-state influence on Montana. Policies he proposed such as doubling the property tax on non-residents and implementing a statewide local option sales tax that forces “out-of-staters” to pay for roads and infrastructure garnered cheers from the crowd of “Montanans” watching Dutton’s speech. Truth be told, I also cheered. But when you review the footage of Montana’s landscape that “Yellowstone” incorporates, the show has had the opposite effect of its premise. The cinematography captivates viewers with the romance of Montana, viewers who now want a piece of the pie that we all share. If the show continues in its popularity, flannel shirts and baseball hats risk extinction, and folks like me are destined for the Endangered Species list. 

Tammi Fisher is an attorney, former mayor of Kalispell and host of the Montana Values Podcast.