In mid-May the property surrounding Thelma’s general store, including the building itself, is scheduled to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The tract of land is zoned for mixed use, both residential and commercial, but few people anticipate Thelma’s being preserved in anything other than residents memories.
Generations of Great Falls residents have gone to Thelma’s for the homemade ice cream. So memorable was the ice cream and the quaint country nature of the store that Thelma’s had been written up in several newspapers and magazines.
“You step back in time when you go into Thelma’s. That’s what I’ll miss the most. It’s something from a different time and that’s going by the wayside now,” said long-time resident and Great Falls Optimist member Darren Ewing. “It’s always better to preserve things than to do away with them — even though this particular building is a dump,” said Ewing.
According to Steve Karbelk with the auction company Tranzon, the business itself does not convey. Inquiries at Thelma’s failed to determine what will ultimately become of the business.
Karbelk expects the property, made up of 3.56 acres and containing three buildings zoned C-8 and R-1, to fetch several million dollars. “We will know the final value at the auction,” said Karbelk. The auction will be held on the property at noon on May 15. “We’re looking for an all-cash offer,” said Karbelk.
According to a local contractor, in the 1980s Thelma Feighery, who owned and ran the store for over 50 years, was offered $3.3 million for the property but declined the offer. Karbelk said, “That sounds about right,” for what the company expects the property to go for.
“IT’S AN INTERESTING development opportunity because you can get two or three homes in back, you’ve got the house in the front and the two businesses can be rented out,” Karbelk said. He adds that water and sewer hookup are not far away which makes the offer even more attractive to a developer.
James Falk Jr., who lives down the street from Thelma’s, cautions that there may be a hitch to the sale that would make buyers think twice. “I don’t know for a fact but I imagine there got to be some environmental issue with those gas pumps that are out front. I know the guy who built the property across the street, the two-story brick building, had looked into buying Thelma’s place but was scared away by that.” The gas pumps have not been on for many years but the physical pumps are still in place.
The property is currently owned by an investment group and there is no mortgage against the property, allowing the owners to sell at any point in the auction. “What’s really interesting is that instead of listing it and waiting for offers, it was decided to go to auction first,” said Karbelk.
After Thelma Feighery died in 2001, the business began to decline. For a while the Old Brogue used Thelma’s ice creams for their desserts, but, according to owner Mike Kearney, “We got in a dispute because I was driving out there, supplying the containers for the ice cream, and she wanted to sell it to me at the same price as if I was buying a cone. We couldn’t work it out.”
Falk said, “It’s not a historic building and it’s not in a historic district. Who ever buys it is going to do whatever they want to it.”
Calvin Follin with the Great falls Historical Society said, “I hate to see it go but I don’t think anyone could make it work today.”
Ewing added, “Going to Thelma’s isn’t about what you can buy there. That’s not why people went.”