Barrel Mountaineering reopens after devastating downtown Bozeman gas explosion closes store

Barrel Mountaineering of Bozeman, Mont., reopened on March 11 after a March 5 natural gas explosion ripped through downtown, destroying five historic buildings on the picturesque Main Street, and killing one woman, Tara Bowman, gallery director of one of the destroyed businesses, Montana Trails Gallery.
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Barrel Mountaineering of Bozeman, Mont., reopened on March 11 after a March 5 natural gas explosion ripped through downtown, destroying five historic buildings on the picturesque Main Street, and killing one woman, Tara Bowman, gallery director of one of the destroyed businesses, Montana Trails Gallery.

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Although Barrel Mountaineering was directly across the street from the buildings devastated by the 8 a.m. explosion, only windows in the front of the store were blown out, no employees were in the store at the time, and the building itself was not damaged.

Click here to read a March 13 New York Times article following the explosion, and here to read an article in the Billings Gazette on March 6.

In the grand scheme of nightmares that can negatively affect a retail business, we would suspect most store owners and managers might include tornadoes, floods, snowfall and hurricanes at the top of the list. Perhaps vandalism, robbery, and even a truck driving through the front of the store might make the list, but explosions just don’t register as a disaster most retailers worry about. And yet, we know of one other retailer who had an oil tanker explode in front of a store in 1984, resulting in all his ABS canoes melting and severe water damage to the store as firefighters battled to keep the rest of the building from burning down.

Ironically, SNEWS® published an article in our Expert Network regarding business interruption insurance on March 13, click here to read.

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Barrel Mountaineering is one retailer that is counting its blessings for business interruption insurance.

“We have great insurance,” Barrel Mountaineering co-owner Brent Bishop told SNEWS. “I came away from this fully believing in biz interruption and catastrophic insurance – though certainly before the blast I was wondering why we were spending the money, like many retailers I am sure. 

“Cincinnati Insurance was there on the spot, checks cleared ahead of time, and they have been very easy to deal with. I came away liking my insurance agent and company more than I thought I would,” added Bishop.

Laura Ryan, another member of Barrel Mountaineering’s ownership (her husband Chris Naumann is also a co-owner, and director of the downtown business association) told us that inventory damage is estimated to be close to $30,000 at cost.

“Two-thirds of our women’s inventory, as well as all of our climbing gear – anything with rope or webbing were damaged by the glass shards that exploded into the store,” said Ryan. “We talked to our insurance agent and to Black Diamond and all agreed the liability of potential glass damage was too great, so we scrapped all of our ropes, harnesses, and any product that that webbing or cord in it.”

Ryan told us that every down jacket in the store was shredded by the velocity of glass shards ripping through the store. In addition, while smoke damage was not too great inside the store, the smell of smoke from the fires that burned for nearly 24 hours across the street permeated a significant amount of product, making it also unsalable. “Although most of the clothing we sell gets used while camping, and picks up the odor of campfires pretty quickly, we certainly can’t sell it that way,” said Ryan. “Almost everything with a synthetic fiber – Lycra, nylon, anything with stretch at all – just stunk. Most of our natural fibers were just fine.”

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Ryan is thankful that insurance is covering the store’s entire damaged inventory as well as employee costs and more, but she is most grateful that no one in her store was hurt. “When I saw what the glass had done to insulated jackets, it made me even more thankful no one was inside the store at the time of the blast – I don’t even want to think about it,” she said. “We live a mile away from the store, and Chris and I heard the explosion. He immediately went to the store to be sure no one was inside, and then, when he smelled gas, he shut everything off in the store and left. We called all of our employees to make sure everyone was OK.”

Barrel Mountaineering was closed for five days, with the last two days, once authorities reopened the street, spent cleaning up the store, working with insurance adjusters and finding out from the building inspector that their building was still sound. On March 11, the store was open again for business, but it was far from business as usual.

“We have a very strong sense of ‘downtown’ and strong support in this community,” said Ryan. “Everyone is struggling in some way to deal with the loss. It is more than a place to shop. It is a gathering place, a place to stroll, and it provides a sense of town to all who live here.”

--Michael Hodgson

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