ALADDIN — When he was 14, Trent Tope bought his first hunting license at the general store in Aladdin, never dreaming that he himself would one day own what is an iconic piece of Wyoming history.
Based on the research Tope has done, the Aladdin General Store is Wyoming’s oldest continuously operating general store.
“There were other stores that are quite a bit older than this store,” Tope said. “But they are no longer stores, or they were closed for a while and then became a pizza parlor and now, you know, they’re a gift shop, and then maybe back to a store, or something like that.”
The Aladdin General Store was built in 1896 by Amos Robinson with lumber from the Pearson Sawmill. The store has always served as the town’s center, all the way back to when the town began, and continues to serve as its central nervous system today.
Robinson in his time offered the community a post office, train depot, barbershop, freight station, gas station, and general store for all the sundries and dry goods one might need.
Tope remembers as a child that his family would buy slices of meat and cheese from the store, as well as delicious cheese curds. Health department rules over time have made selling slices of deli meat and cheese impossible for the Aladdin store, which lacks running water, and thus cannot even serve wedges of limes to the patrons of its bar.
But it’s still a general store concept, Tope said, though to survive, he has had to cater to tourists as well, not just the town, which has a population of just 15 people.
Tope still offers many of the same services Robinson did, though.
“We have a bar, we have a post office, we have groceries, we have an antique shop,” he said. “We are kind of like a gun shop. And we have gas, you know, with food. And we do G-forms for brand inspections and gaming and fish licenses.
“We’re a pickup and drop-off for UPS and Fedex. We do a lot here, and we wear a lot of hats.”
This Junk Is For Sale
When Tope first bought the store in June 2019 — Internet rumors that the town was sold by auction are not true he told Cowboy State Daily — he really wanted to bring it back to an old-school, general store that provides the goods and services that a town needs.
But before he could complete the sale, he had to clear up a number of issues with property lines, as well as other details. That took quite a bit of time and effort, and it’s the reason why most of the other reported sales of Aladdin and it’s general store didn’t actually go through.
Once Tope had purchased the business, along with the surrounding 15 acres, he soon realized that with a town of just 15 people to support the store, he had to think outside the box.
“I see locals at Walmart, and I can’t really blame them,” he said. “Walmart is much cheaper than me. There’s nothing I can do about that.”
Catering to the tourists who are coming through Aladdin on their way to landmarks like Devils Tower, Yellowstone National Park, and Mount Rushmore has become a lifeline.
“That was one of the reasons for (expanding) the bar,” he said. “There’s not too many places where you can come in, get a drink, and then shop while also kind of walking through a museum.”
It’s a museum, albeit one where every single item is for sale, upstairs and down.
What Can’t You Find In The Store?
The array of antiques and souvenirs for sale in the store is nothing short of dizzying. The merry-go-round feel starts the instant one walks in the door.
Cool leather handbags that have a secret compartment for concealed carry pistols, leather belts, cowboy boots, and cowboy hats to complete a western look all vie for attention.
It’s easy to miss special items as the eye is drawn to flashy souvenirs and coffee mugs — T-shirts, wallets, postcards, keychains, books and so on give customers a lot of things to look at.
Furs hang on the walls as visitors walk up the stairs, and one of the first rooms offers a rack of vintage mink and fox coats. There are fur hats, too, to complete the look. And there’s also a one-of-a-kind buffalo hide landscape hanging on the hallway wall.
Each room upstairs seems to have a theme, and this is where the store begins to look more and more museum-esque.
Vintage clothing hangs out in one room, along with a cute little changing area created with a dark blue makeshift curtain and mirror. American Indian beaded shoes and purses are in another room, alongside animal statuettes and a taxidermied rattlesnake.
China from a bygone era fills the shelves in yet another room, along with an antique piano.
There’s even a room devoted to tools from the good old days — old-fashioned saddles, used ropes, and even a handheld grass seeder, as well as other vintage items unlikely to be found anywhere else.
Hand-crafted items are sprinkled throughout the store upstairs and down — bottle cap motorcycles, lip balms and lotion, painted wine glasses and more.
There are also the obligatory snacks, as well as grocery items likely to strike the fancy of campers who have forgotten to bring that jar of mayonnaise or other necessary spice along.
Hey, dill pickle salt anyone?
That General Store Look
The store retains many of the original features that lend it an antique, historical feel. That includes cabinets that are more than 130 years old, and an old wooden cabinet, whose bins have been filled with bright and colorful candy to tempt the children of parents who are checking out at the register.
There’s an old-fashioned wood stove, old-fashioned registers, and even an old switchboard operating system.
“We’re just keeping history alive,” Tope told Cowboy State Daily. “That’s why, on the front of our shirt, it says, ‘History lives on.’”
Tope does have big plans for the store’s future, however.
“Probably the biggest thing for the future is turning this into a wedding venue,” he said. “We’ll need more housing for people to stay in, and a better stage for live music.”
He’s already torn down the old outhouse bathrooms, and he’s added new bathrooms in the back.
“I hated to tear that down, but it was going to fall down anyways,” Tope said. “But I did save the old wood, and we’re going to use it for picture frames of the store.”
He’s also expanded the bar a little bit from where it was, so that it can accommodate more people.
“There was always a bar there, but it was very small and not very efficient,” Tope said.
The new bar is still small, but it easily hosted a dozen or so bikers during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Thatwas exactly what Tope was hoping for to keep building up his store as a destination along the Devils Tower Loop.
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.