A neighbor new to town diverted me into this charming shop on the way back from a hike in the badlands. I probably never would have gone in there otherwise, because I don’t knit or crochet.
Besides, it’s in a nondescript location: the block-like old Masonic Temple building, out beyond the main intersection on the way toward the town dump.
I stop all the time at the Opportunity Shop right next door, but I’ve never noticed Wyoming Wool Works. It has no display windows, and not even a real sign. The only clue that it is inside is a small text-only black and white placard on the stair rail.
We had to turn a corner into an office-like corridor to reach the shop door. And then: Oh, my goodness. I caught my breath.
You can also buy hand-knitted woolen hats, sweaters, and jackets. Hand-painted aprons. Crocheted rugs. Delightful huge baskets made from large strips of felt. There are also a few antiques.
The proprietor’s excellent taste is unmistakeable. Given more visibility, this shop would stand up well on Madison Avenue or on the trendier streets of Brooklyn where I still spend a little time.
It’s a very high-end little treasure chest, curiously hidden from view.
“I get how to run a shop,” said Anita Thatcher, when I got up the nerve after a few days to ask why she keeps such a low profile. What I heard was a love story with some plot elements that are fairly familiar.
Anita started out in New York City. Sometime in the late 1980s (like me) she booked a vacation near Dubois, at what we now politely call a “guest ranch.”
During her visit, the cook quit, was fired, or fell ill — I don’t recall the details. Anita offered to help with the cooking. This is somewhat outré for a guest at what we called a dude ranch back then. But her offer was accepted. She returned the next summer, as the cook.
Unlike me — but like many other wives I know here — she also fell in love with a cowboy. They bought a ranch in nearby Crowheart, where a neighbor woman, also from New York City, was raising sheep.
Thus began Anita’s love of all things wool (third chapter in this love story). Eventually she and two friends opened a yarn shop in Dubois. But her culinary skills were still in demand locally, and for several decades she has been catering events for hosts of distinction in Dubois.
Anita’s husband died a while ago. He went the way many cowboys go, she told me, taking too many knocks. She relocated from the Crowheart ranch to Lander and then to Dubois, where she opened Wyoming Wool Works in its current out-of-the-way location, serving a small clientele of local and mail-order customers and offering knitting and weaving classes.
Opening the shop only a few days a week, she admitted, has been one way of intentionally keeping it nearly invisible. A woman only has so much energy, after all. Anita still caters the weekly Kiwanis Club breakfast. She will always do catering for some longstanding clients, she told me, but “it’s time for me to stop carrying food all over the county.”
I’m watching now for the fourth chapter in this love story. At an age when Anita needs to slow down, and when many other women are playing golf or enjoying travel, it may be that she has decided to bring Wyoming Wool Works out of the shadows.
For the love of Dubois! I do hope she devotes the same creative energies to the future of her delightful shop that she has lavished on her husband and her catering business.
“Would I?” she said with a chuckle. “I’d even serve scones and tea!”
What a day trip! Escape the crowds. Take a great hike in the morning, have lunch at the Nostalgia Bistro or the Cowboy Cafe. Then stop by that great little yarn shop to see what you can’t resist.
Shopping therapy is a time-honored restorative. In this location that offers respite to so many, I think Anita Thatcher is morally obligated not to keep denying her therapeutic skills to all those people who turn that corner in the middle of town, entirely unaware of what is only a block away.
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© Lois Wingerson 2015