48 Degrees North

Kyiyo Merc Opens on Glacier’s East Side

The mercantile sells supplies, food, groceries, local art work, and includes a hot deli

By Mike Kordenbrock
Kyiyo Mercantile, located at the junction of Hwy 89 and the Looking Glass Road north of East Glacier Park on May 12, 2024. Photo by Hunter D’Antuono

If you find yourself going for a drive to the east side of Glacier National Park this summer and you catch a glimpse in the distance of a familiar-seeming tall red building façade and big white letters, you are not, in fact, so fantastically lost that you wound up in Polebridge.

What you’re seeing, and approaching, perhaps from a winding and visually stunning northerly drive along Looking Glass Highway, is the new Kyiyo Mercantile and Bakery at Kiowa Junction where highways 49 and 89 intersect.

Named after a Blackfeet word for bear, the Kyiyo Mercantile is the latest business venture of Will Hammerquist, who has now owned the Polebridge Mercantile for the last 10 years. The Kyiyo Mercantile is a sort of sister mercantile to the Polebridge Mercantile, which is now in its 110th year of existence.

Folks can find many of the same food items at the new mercantile, including the Polebridge location’s iconic huckleberry bear claw pastries. There are also supplies and groceries, as well as a selection of knickknacks, clothing and other souvenir-style items, including jewelry, beadwork, and prints made by artists local to the area.

One of the notable differences between the two businesses, is the addition of a hot deli counter serving fried chicken, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, banana pudding and baked beans. A kitchen attached to the mercantile allows for the food to be made on site.

“We’re doing everything from scratch,” Hammerquist said.

The fried chicken is actually a nod to a store that had operated at the junction for decades, but no longer exists, and which locals still remember.  Hammerquist said he conceived of the project not as a development but as a revitalization, and that he envisions about half of the mercantile’s staff consisting of a local workforce commuting from Browning. The opening of the new mercantile this May marked the culmination of about three years of work, which involved working with the state of Montana, Glacier County and the Blackfeet Tribe.

On a personal level, Hammerquist said it feels like the completion of a circle. Born in Cut Bank, his family lived in Browning until he was age 3, during which his dad worked on a ranch and his mom worked at the hospital.

Like in Polebridge, the new mercantile has a zero waste operating plan. Part of that involves collaborating with FAST Blackfeet, a food access and sustainability nonprofit that looks to improve food security, provide nutritional education and promote food sovereignty, in order to ensure unsold food at the mercantile doesn’t go to waste.

Hammerquist said he’s also putting in a small 12-unit campground nearby, which will have a mix of cabins and yurts. Additionally, the Kyiyo Mercantile has about two-and-a-half miles of hiking trails open to the public, which lead up to a scenic viewpoint. The mercantile also has picnic tables and other seating for people to sit down and eat.

“We want this to be a place where you can bring your kids, and grandparents, and have that family-friendly focus for Montanans and their visitors and their guests,” Hammerquist said.

The Kyiyo Mercantile is open through Labor Day, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The store is located at 1223 U.S. Highway 89, and the store phone number is 406-319-5099. A grand opening event is being planned for Friday, June 28. For more information, check out kyiyomerc.com.