Welcome to the General Mercantile, home of the finest “gold” to be found on Helena’s historic Last Chance Gulch. Once upon a time in the West, this winding gulch was the home of gold strikes, dreams of better times, and gun fights. These days The Gulch is a place of unique restaurants, galleries, bookstores and shops. The conversation isn’t bad either. For the past 45 years the General Mercantile has been at the center of the somewhat offbeat and relaxed lifestyle found on The Gulch’s 400 Block. If you want to march to a different drummer, or if you don’t want to march at all, linger a bit at the General Mercantile and other 400 Block businesses.
Lindsey and Aaron are excited to carry on the beautiful legacy that Ray Domer has built over the past 45 years at the General Mercantile.
A love for the sea has always been a theme in my writing. Post after post, the salty wildness that helped to carve my character gets referenced with love and nostalgia. So fifteen years ago, when I moved away from Her grey blue trance and inland to the mountains of Montana, I had assumed it would not be for long. How could I stay away from the intoxicating charms that the ocean brings? Finely pampered boats, both old and new, sailors bantering over morning coffee, fiercely guarded “honey holes” that produce a livelihood for fisherman, and boat captains, too rough around the edges for most, but who love and were loved by their chosen crew with a loyalty above all. The loss of this deeply rooted seafaring culture ensured my return after a quick four years of college. Or so I thought…
Knowing me, it’s safe to assume I was wearing Xtratuff boots, jeans and a Ray Troll fisherman’s hoodie the day I first stood in front of the General Mercantile. She was moored in her longstanding slip at 413 N. Last Chance Gulch. A 100 year old vessel that had new life breathed into her when Captain Ray Domer reclaimed her and made her his own 30 years prior.
As I curiously meandered around her deck and ponied up at her bar, I knew I had found the part of the sea I had worried I couldn’t live without.
Captain Ray rebuilt the body of the Merc from the ground up. He patched the holes in her hull when she sprung a leak, and hid a shower and bed in her stern for long nights at sea. He tailored each nook and cranny to optimize every inch of space, stashing bottles of whiskey here and there for days when the sea was rough and unforgiving, or even for days when it was as calm as glass.
Year after year I came to realize that Ray sailed the General Merc with all the classic characteristics of the best sea captains. Being a stubborn and loyal man who loved women, whiskey and the ample bounty his vessel provided he remained steadfast and resistant to many of the changes of the modern world, sometimes driving his crew to madness when his routines were deemed the “law of the sea.”
I listened to countless stories of how Ray trolled the mighty Merc through the 70s, 80, 90s and the turn of the century. He wooed his audience with stories of all he had seen and all he had done, never needing to repeat a one because his life was so full. He raised daughters who came from different walks of life into bold and strong women, who stood proud in the stern as they grew to adulthood and adventured out on their own.
I joined his crew and pledged my loyalty to him as I navigated the next phase of my life with his guidance. I washed and polished the old decks of the Merc, learning how each quirk and idiosyncrasy was necessary for Her to run just right, and served up strong coffee to opinionated old men who bantered about at all hours of the day. I read good books on her deck, had endless whiskey toasts to loves and losses, and sailed on with the legendary 9-fingered whited bearded captain.
With the help of my captain I married my love, ventured out on my own, and returned to the ship moored at 413 N. Last Chance Gulch. Here the captain in his 70th year is still the first to rise in the morning to prep the ship for her day, and the last to leave when she’s docked for the night. He’s my slice of the sea in a valley of mountains, and my Captain, O Captain.