The landscape of forlorn, empty storefronts on Main Street are a thing of the past for many small towns in Wyoming.
Jumps in tourism traffic and the oil and gas industry, along with an influx of city dwellers looking to escape pandemic-related restrictions, have given a much-needed boost to many communities in Wyoming, according to local officials. Restaurants are among the fastest-growing of the small town businesses.
Jamie Jessen of the Sundance Chamber of Commerce said the city’s food service options are about to double.
“Currently, we have three restaurants,” she said. “We have a pizza shop, a coffee shop, and then a full service restaurant, but they’re not open for breakfast.” Jessen said two new restaurants are about to open, along with a Subway that could occupy space in a local gas station.
Although Sundance sits just off Interstate 90 in the northeast corner of the state, Jessen pointed out that the majority of businesses downtown aren’t necessarily tourism-oriented – they primarily serve the local population.
“We have a very large hardware store right downtown,” she said. “And then we have the banks downtown, the gallery, we have a chiropractor downtown,” she said. “There is a brand new gym and physical therapist that just opened up in a downtown location, and then we have a pharmacy that also has gift type items. The coffee shop is also a very large gift shop, and then we have a florist downtown that has gifts as well.”
Jessen added that the only store fronts that are empty in Sundance right now are buildings that are in disrepair.
“There are a few buildings that are empty, but it’s more due to the fact that they aren’t in great condition than the fact that they can’t have a business in them,” she said. “We had a brand new gallery built this year that was in an old location, and he just built a new building on an empty lot right downtown. And then one of our restaurant buildings that has been empty for a few years is getting a restaurant in it, so that’s exciting.”
According to Jessen, the town of roughly 1,100 people got a boost from people moving into the area to escape big cities.
“Real estate has really done very, very well, and there’s a lot of new people here,” she said. “So I think, there’s more people, there’s more need, and so I think it’s just become a more appealing place to open a restaurant.”
Jessen added that tourism has been up significantly the last two summers, which has most likely made an impact on the types of businesses that have opened in Sundance.
Greybull Chamber Director Deanna Werner said that while a new industrial park on the outskirts of town is the primary focus of the town’s economic hopes, clothing and food stores are gaining a foothold downtown.
“Right next door to the chamber is a store called the Flying E, and it sells local grass-fed meats,” she said. “There is another little fun boutique shop called the Wyoming Scene, and they have some really nice clothing shirts, jackets, sweaters, jeans and things like that. And it’s brand new, they’ve only been open a few months.”
Queen Bee Honey, a Lovell-based business that opened in 1976, has a large presence downtown in the building that was the home of Probst Western Wear for dozens of years.
Like many small towns in Wyoming, when the Shopko closed its doors in Greybull several years ago it left locals scrambling for an all-purpose store.
“I’m looking for something like Ben Franklin, or something that we can, you know, go buy a pair of socks in notebook paper and a pen,” said Werner.
Much of the focus for development in Greybull is on the new industrial park, Werner said.
“The economic health is good right now,” she said. “And I see it growing in the future – for example, with the industrial park, there’s a lot of potential there. And we also have lots of housing lots for sale on the east side of town, so, if we do get the industry here, we have places to house people.”
Matt Adelman, the publisher of the Douglas Budget, told Cowboy State Daily that Douglas’ economic health can boom and bust dramatically, depending on the natural gas industry.
“The last four or five, six years have been really good on the retail side with a lot of new businesses, a lot of new storefronts,” Adelman said, adding that new chain stores such as Dollar General and Tractor Supply have served the community well, as have new restaurants and coffee shops.
In towns like Douglas, however, tourism doesn’t have much of an impact.
“Tourism is a very, very small part of our economy,” said Adelman. “Hunting is a little bit larger and in the summer mostly people are going to Yellowstone or Devil’s Tower, stopping here and getting gas. But oil and gas and coal and energy related projects, that helps hotels and restaurants and are a much bigger impact.”