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'Yellowstone' has created a tourism boom in Missoula, Montana

The show "Yellowstone" has caused a surge in tourism and permanent residents in Missoula, Montana, but some residents aren't happy with it.
Yellowstone-Mountain Renamed
Posted at 1:29 PM, Jun 20, 2022

Yellowstone, the hit starring Kevin Costner set new ratings records with its season four finale, and it seems many fans can’t get enough of the show — or its setting.  

Ruby’s Café is cooking more than normal because a now famous scene was shot there. It featured a shooting that killed off a sheriff.

Now, the café's owner, Brenda Hallas, says not a day goes by that someone doesn't ask her about it.

"There's a lot of people that they're always asking," Hallas said. "They're always questioning, taking pictures."

At first, the café just saw an influx of selfie-takers and not such a boost in actual business. But now, that’s changed.

It’s not just the café. Season five just started shooting in western Montana, and the cast was just shooting in downtown Missoula.  

Another draw: The home of the Dutton Ranch — in reality called Chief Joseph Ranch, about 60 miles south of Missoula. Fans can even stay in one of two cabins used in the show, but it will cost you anywhere from $1,200 to $1,500 a night.

A report by the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research found "Yellowstone" brought more than $85 million in additional spending to Montana, with nearly $100,000 alone spent on parking.

The report, funded in part by Paramount, also found season four of the show meant a collective $25 million in income for some Montana residents. 

Tourism spending wasn’t included in the study, but economists say it’s big.  

“It's tangible, whether people like it or not," said Patrick Barkey, with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research. "There's a lot more people that know about Montana, at least from an imagery point of view, than did before this series really took off.”

On top of tourism, the University of Montana report found 233 people moved to big sky country to work on the show, but there’s more: Fans are also calling realtors. 

"It is like being on spin cycle all the time right now," said Bill McDavid, partner at Hall and Hall real estate agency. "I mean, I used to think I knew what busy meant."

As a realtor, McDavid specializes in high-end ranch properties.

"'Yellowstone' is certainly brought up by everybody who comes through the door, but I would place a lot more weight on the pandemic," McDavid said. "There were a lot of people that thought about owning a ranch for years, and they never executed on it."

That goes up when you add a hit TV show showcasing Montana’s sweeping vistas and craggy mountain ranges.

"Every buyer talks about it," McDavid said. "I'm not gonna say that's what got them here, but it's it's a very popular show."

Some locals aren’t thrilled with the extra attention on top of soaring real estate prices and demand from the pandemic.  

"It's a hard time to be a buyer right now," McDavid said.

The median price of a single-family home in Missoula went from $350,000 in 2020 to more than $500,000 in 2022. In Bozeman, MT it jumped from nearly $660,000 in April of 2021 to more than $811,000 this April. But if you want to live on a ranch like the Duttons, it’s going to cost you a lot more.

"I think our average deal right now is probably eight to 10 million, so if that tells you anything, I mean... there's plenty of deals that we're doing that are less than that, but it's been a while since I've done a deal that was under 2 million," McDavid said.

The irony isn’t lost on many — a show about land rights and development conflict contributing to the state’s very own real property woes.

"If we're not doing a very good job already, in some of these areas, growth will underscore, will make bold, those kinds of problems," Barkey said. "But is the problem with growth? Or is the problem how we're managing growth? And I would argue it's the latter."

It’s not just real estate. The Bitterroot Valley Ranch overlooks a site used for filming, and the owner says it’s common for excited "Yellowstone" fans to ignore multiple no trespassing signs, just to try to get a glimpse of the set. They spent more than $1,000 on security features like a gate to try to keep their privacy intact. They told Newsy, "I live where I live because I want to be left alone and have my privacy... “

Back at Ruby’s Café, Brenda is the first to say that not all of her diners are there for "Yellowstone;" some are just old-fashioned Montana tourists. 

"Do I think 'Yellowstone' has made a difference?" Hallas said. "Of course it has, but frosting on the cake."

So if you’re in the market for biscuits and gravy, a "Yellowstone" photo op or a multi-million dollar ranch, you’re in the right place. With multiple spinoffs and bigger real estate problems, it's not slowing down.

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