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The employee-owned company WinCo recently purchased nearly 10 acres west of Interstate 15 and south of Custer Avenue for an 84,975-square-foot store with 496 parking spaces.

WinCo Foods plans to open shop in Helena.

The employee-owned company recently purchased nearly 10 acres west of Interstate 15 and south of Custer Avenue for an 84,975-square-foot store with 496 parking spaces.

The company has grown from a small chain of stores in the Pacific Northwest to 110 stores in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Texas.

Helena’s store will mark its entry into Montana, and company leaders aren’t yet prepared to comment on whether other stores in the state are anticipated. A timetable for construction of the Helena store has yet to be announced. 

Company practice typically doesn’t allow those who give information to provide their names for publication, but a company spokesman from the Boise, Idaho office said WinCo is focused on the Helena market.

Helena is attractive because it is the state capital and offers a stable job market that, the spokesman noted, will also be able to provide WinCo with the employees it seeks.

Another attraction that Helena offers, the spokesman said, is the ability to draw shoppers from the region, the spokesman said.

“We believe in strategic growth, and right now Helena serves that purpose,” he added.

David Kimball, one of the two new owners of the Capital Hill Mall, recently said he had spoken with large grocers and retailers who had expressed concerns about the Helena market. The owners of the property have been speaking with a variety of businesses as part of a search for an anchor tenant for the mall. 

WinCo’s selection of this site came after an analysis of the Helena market, the company spokesman said, adding, “We believe that competition is good for the consumer and we want to give them as broad a choice as possible.”

Several other grocery stores are located within a mile or two of the WinCo property, including a Costco Wholesale store, a new Super 1 Foods and an Albertsons food store.

Requests from shoppers for WinCo stores help the company plan for cities where it will locate, and requests have come from Montana, the spokesman said.

Shoppers will find that WinCo offers lower prices than any other grocer, the spokesman said.

Helping the company reduce the cost for groceries is its practice of dealing directly with providers instead of middlemen, the spokesman said, and it doesn’t accept credit cards, which assess a fee on merchants.

Cash and debit cards are accepted at WinCo stores, he noted.

WinCo stores also do not provide staff to bag groceries for customers, another cost-saving measure that helps keep prices low, although it assists shoppers as needed.

“Our customer service is based on satisfying our customers,” the spokesman said.

The land now slated to become a WinCo store was owned by the Wall Family–Power Townsend Foundation and had been for sale for a while, said Michael Wall, owner of Power Townsend.

Several potential buyers looking for a retail site had expressed an interest in it, he added.

WinCo approached the family foundation about a year ago and was serious about its interest in the land, Wall said.

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The land had been owned by his mother, Arlene, and then father, John, upon Arlene’s death.

Eventually the land was placed in the hands of the Wall Family–Power Townsend Foundation, which sold it on Sept. 9 for an undisclosed amount.

Mike’s father, John, purchased the site in either 1969 or 1970 and a couple of years before moving Power Townsend from the Steamboat Block on Last Chance Gulch, where the store had been located from 1889 to 1972, to near its present location.

Power Townsend was in the building where the Dollar Tree store is now located and at that time operated a lumber yard near the building.

The two operations were consolidated in the early 1990s, and the store initiated a major expansion in 2003 in advance of the arrival of Lowe’s and Home Depot, Wall said.

John died in June, his son said, but through the family foundation and its support of the Montana Community Foundation had been able for several years to make annual donations to Habitat for Humanity and home building programs through Rocky Mountain Development Council and Helena’s two high schools.

Contractor discounts are also provided to help fund John’s vision of building a home every year for a family with a low income, his son said.

While donations from the two foundations and the discount on building supplies has been about enough to fund construction of a quarter of a house every year, proceeds from the sale of land to WinCo will allow for the funding of nearly an entire house, he added.

In addition to helping provide housing for those least able to afford it, support of the home building effort has also helped students who participated to become contractors, Wall said.

Al Knauber can be reached at


I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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