Family Business Confidential: Allen’s Manix Store

By Matt Villano

Nobody gets to boss Momma Sue around

“If we don’t have it, you don’t need it!”

The slogan on the front of the legendary Allen’s Manix Store in the heart of Augusta, Mont., pretty much says it all.

The general store is a full-service grocery and bakery that sells souvenirs, fishing supplies and other trinkets. Allen’s Manix also is authorized to sell guns and ammunition, and it operates a state-controlled liquor store.

Opened in 1902, the store was purchased by Don Allen and his father Clyde in 1974. Susan Ford—Don’s daughter and Clyde’s granddaughter — has run it since 1976. Susan’s daughters Tia Troy and Kezia Allen own the Lightning Bug boutique across the street, so it’s safe to say shopkeeping is something that runs in the family.

“This store has taken good care of us,” Susan Ford jokes. “We’ve taken good care of it, too.”

Shopkeeping certainly hasn’t been easy — especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, it was tough for Ford and her husband, Steve, to keep the doors open. With hard work and dedication, the couple have powered through.

Susan Ford says she regularly works 12-, 15-, or 17-hour days to get things done. Steve, who just recently retired from a career with the local Pepsi distributor, tackles baked goods and butcher work.

“[The store is] like a milk cow; it never stops,” Susan Ford says, referencing her grandfather’s dairy farm.

In the old days, when Susan was younger, she was able to manage the store and teach music in her “spare” time; she taught at the local high school and gave private lessons, too. Today, at 67, Ford lacks the stamina to maintain that schedule. She retired from teaching three years agomand says she could stand to have one or two more reliable employees so she can scale back at the store.

Like most family business owners, “I’m not interested in trying someone for two months and having them quit,” Ford says. “Most of my people have been here a long time, and I’m always looking for people who are going to stay here a while.”

Despite her desire to scale back, Ford is nowhere near ready to consider retirement or to relinquish control.

Eventually, Ford says, she could see Troy or one of her sisters taking over the shop, carrying on the family legacy into another generation. Until then, Ford is prepared to helm Allen’s Manix just as she has from the beginning.

“I run the show and that’s how it’s going to be,” she says. “Nobody gets to boss Momma Sue around.”

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