House of Libby Event Center prepares for Grand Opening

By McKenzie Williams


Vince Backen and his family have been working for months to get the Mercantile Building on California Ave ready for its rebirth as House of Libby Event Center.   Now, with the majority of the work done, all they can do is wait.

“The House of Libby is a total resurrection,” said Backen. “The coolest thing that we have done is bring light and air into the long forgotten speakeasy.”

The event center features an open upstairs facility that the Backen’s view as a perfect venue for events like gun shows, beer festivals, craft fairs and wedding receptions.  It also includes the basement bar that used to be called The Loading Chute when it was a bar in the 1980s.  It sports a dark, speakeasy look and feel.

“Upstairs we have this beautiful old brick look with tall spaces and lots of natural light,” said Mati Bishop, the booking manager for the facility.   “Downstairs is a ready-made concert, comedy and theatre venue that can hold about 400 people comfortably and was built with quality acoustics in mind.  The combination is going to make House of Libby a really versatile and valuable space.”

The House of Libby is the most ambitious project that the Backen family has taken on, but it is not the first. Vince, Matt and Drew Backen have remodeled the Libby Base Camp Hostel and the Libby Gym on Mineral Avenue. They have made a point of preserving and using as much of the original structure as possible during the revitalization of the old Mercantile building.

“They haven’t built buildings like that one in a long time,” Bishop said.  “The cuts of lumber, the craftsmanship, the design, its all really cool.  The Backen’s recognized the uniqueness of what they had and have done a lot to preserve that look and feel as they have made the updates needed to the building. Their respect for the history of Libby has fueled a number of the decisions that they have made.”

“When you’re in House of Libby it is as if you are stepping back in time,” explains Backen.  “For locals who remember the good times, all the memories come rushing back when they step inside.”

In addition to creating and promoting events for the facility, Bishop is also the point man for rentals for the community.

“I envision this space being a great place to have a reunion, party, reception, fundraiser, and just about whatever else people in Libby can envision using it for,” Bishop elaborated. “We’re able to take reservations for Summer dates now, but everything is dependent on this pandemic passing.”

While the Backen’s continue to work on the inside of the facility, Bishop has begun to build the marketing and online presence for the project.

“We’re designing a website at and there is a Facebook page that you can find by searching House of Libby,” he explained. “We were all geared up and ready to go, but now it’s frustrating to have everything put on hold.”

Working on the project and focusing on the future has helped to keep Bishop sane through the difficulty of the pandemic and he hopes that releasing information about the venue will help give the community of Libby something to look forward to and a few extra good vibes knowing that when all of this is done, there is something really new and cool ready to take off.

“I think we all need something to look forward to right now.   It’s really cool that the Backen’s are breathing life back into this piece of Libby history and looking forward to seeing what kind of ideas this community to come up for events there.  It’s the hope of a having a piece of our history back that makes it a little better and easier to look forward,” he concluded.

Transfer of Libby Asbestos Superfund Site delayed

By Mati Bishop


The scheduled transfer of responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the Libby Asbestos Superfund site from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has been postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. According to the  the transfer was scheduled to take place on April 1, but it has been delayed indefinitely due to limitations associated with in-person coordination of the project related to the  COVID-19 pandemic.

The delay will not impact any activities or remedies taking place at the site, and a revised timeline of the transition will be released when it is available.

The superfund site’s remedy was declared operational and functional by the EPA in April of 2019. DEQ will assume responsibility for maintenance of site monitoring, institutional controls, and oversight of the long-term protectiveness of the remedies in operable units four and seven. Operational unit four includes properties in and around Libby. Operable unit seven includes properties in and around Troy.

Once the transition takes place, there will be in-person meetings to address comments and questions about details of clean up and next steps.

According to CAVermiculite was discovered near Libby by gold miners in the 1920s and later developed as a commercial product. Libby’s vermiculite mine was purchased by W.R. Grace and they produced Zonolite Insulation as well as producing 80% of the world’s vermiculite supply when in peak operation. In 1999 it was determined that the byproducts of the mining process (asbestos) were causing massive health problems in the Libby community.   More than 400 people have died from asbestos related diseases in the area and thousands more are sick.

From trees to toiletries

The rush on toiletries causes unprecedent demand

By Brian Baxter


Toilet paper is being bought up in across the United States and no one can really explain it. Manufacturers can’t, but they know the increased demand is putting a major strain on their supply chains. Local northwest Montana and northern Idaho stores are have had  trouble getting shipments. The possibility of one scoring toilet paper on any given day has become akin to taking a roll on a roulette wheel in a Las Vegas casino.

Toilet paper is usually made from a basic paper using both softwood trees such as fir, pine, spruce, larch, and hemlock, and hardwood trees such as oak, gum, maple, and birch. The combination is generally 60% hardwood and 40% softwood. Sometimes hemp is also used. The basic process is that trees are debarked, made into chips, and separated into batches. Next, the wood chips are pressure cooked in large vats with chemicals that create a usable fibrous mix called pulp. The pulp is then washed, mixed with water, and a wet paper stock is sprayed onto screens to draw the water out. The paper is then pressed, dried, and scraped off with metal blades and wound up on jumbo reels before being moved on to machines that cut it into long strips and perforated it into squares. The last step is cutting the paper logs into rolls and wrapping them into packages. Viola, your basic toilet paper.

In partnership with the United Way, the Cottonelle Company is helping smooth things out, so to speak, by donating $1 million and one million rolls of toilet paper to the United Way’s Worldwide Covid-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund. The company is asking that if you can help too, please post how you are able to do so at #ShareASquare and they will donate one dollar to match your dollar through June 1.

Stores across the country and right here in Lincoln County have found ways to limit the strain by putting a maximum quanity allowed per store visit, they have been getting regular shipments and taking all the nessary steps to limit the toilet paper crisis.

While some shelves may be empty, they know there is no shortage of kindness.  Until things get back on track, folks in our area can keep in mind an old trick known by foresters, wildlife biologists, and land surveyors: In a pinch, a wild plant known as wooly mullen, with its smooth, soft, and long leaves can serve as a substitute for toilet paper when absolutely necessary. Then again, there’s not that much of the plant around, and there’s no substitute for common sense.

Friday COIVD Cruisin’

By Tracy McNew

On Friday, April 3 at 6 p.m. a group of locals gathered in downtown Libby to “cruise the gut” on Mineral Avenue.

Traffic was heavy, especially compared to what it has been since only essential businesses have been able to open. Horn honking, waving, and even a few conversations from car to car helped locals to  once again feel connected and supported by each other.

Rules of the ride included staying in your vehicle if you are at high risk, and only pulling over to talk at designated locations. Officers and onlookers attended too, but everyone maintained their distance while enjoying the event which was organized on Facebook by Kenny Rayome Jr. According to the event description, all residents of Libby were invited to attend to  show that we are all still here for each other. Everyone was encouraged to share the invitation and reconnect during these trying times.

Keep your eye out for more cruising events in upcoming weeks.

On Friday, April 3, car loads of locals emerged from self quarantine to cruise Mineral Ave. in Libby in a creative effort to see and support each other while still social distancing. Photos by Tracy McNew, The Montanian