For 35 years, children have been feeding the koi at the General Mercantile. And now some of those kids are bringing in children of their own to toss food to the fish.
Known to locals fondly as “The Merc,” the coffee shop that houses the koi pond has been a staple in Helena since it opened 43 years ago.
Owner Ray Domer said he always loved feeding fish at hatcheries when he was younger, and wanted to provide the same experience for kids who came into the Merc.
Domer built the original pond from a plastic tub surrounded by plywood, but one morning it cracked and leaked out all the water, leaving the koi splayed about the tub.
He saved all the fish and brought in a 150-gallon horse trough to replace the plastic tub. Though traditionally many small koi live in the pond, it is currently dominated by one large koi named Merky.
Domer will give some fish food to any child who climbs the wooden steps to get a closer look at Merky, so the kid has the opportunity to toss a meal to the eager koi.
“I love to see little kids feeding the fish,” Domer said.
And of all those little kids who have fed the fish during the last 35 years, not a single one has slipped and fell into the water. Only Domer can claim that title.