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is there a location that would be well-suited to serve a node app from that is not accessible to serve regular files?

Specifically on MT, no clue. Somewhere outside your Apache web root, but I don’t know if you could proxy to such a location. Maybe ask them.

simply to save some cash…

Have you looked into places like DigitalOcean? On-demand VPS, including pre-configured images, starting at $5/mo. (not affiliated, just a fan.)

Can you elaborate on why a traditional hosting plan is not the way to go for a Node app??

They’re simply not organized with node in mind. The trouble you’re having with overlapping web roots, plus the fact that you generally need more terminal than a shared host will normally allow. Honestly, I’m surprised that MT has node installed at all.

But it’s up to you.