For a long time I have been hoping to see two new kinds of shops in town, and here they are. Maybe this came about because I finally got around to reading a Harry Potter book, and some magic rubbed off. (Or maybe it’s not about me at all.)
Last evening, the doors opened on the first new shop in the complex built on the site of the old Mercantile, which was destroyed in a famous dead-of-winter fire in late December 2014. The new business is an outgrowth of Sandy Frericks’ charming Christmas shop, Yeeha! Studio, which operated out of the old drugstore last November and December.
As I told Sandy yesterday, this answers my dream that Dubois would have what I’ve seen in so many other small towns on my road trips: A shop that features art and craft items by local designers.
Hey, presto! Wind River Artisans and Sky Photography now proudly faces onto our main street. (More, I hear, are coming next month.)
At least as important, but not so visible, is Scarecrow Bike & Key, operating out of a lean-to on the side of the hardware store at the back of the Mercantile site. This great idea bubbled up out of a couple of Bud Lights at the Rustic Tavern one day last winter, when Chris Wright told his buddy John McPhail that he had always wanted to open a bike shop in town.
As the official host for the many cyclists who spend a night at St. Thomas church while passing through town on cross-country bike treks, John quickly saw potential in the idea.
“Do you know how many cyclists came through town last summer?” he replied. (At least 375, in fact, who stayed at the church house. Who knows how many came through without stopping or camped out at the KOA?)
“Two weeks later,” Chris told me, “we were ordering parts.”
Like two famous Wright brothers a century ago, Chris Wright was attracted to mechanics early in life. Growing up in a small California town, he and his friends built bikes from trash parts left in alleys. They saw to it that no kid in town was without a bike.
After working as a diesel mechanic in high school and at oil fields after graduation, he decided to become a fly fishing guide. Chris has worked at guest lodges near Dubois for the past four years.
John McPhail, who also enjoys making broken things work, has hoped for years to open a locksmith shop. He had seen an ad in the Roundup that said simply, “Don’t call me any more,” put there by a local man who wanted to close a locksmith shop he had been running out of his garage. John did call him, snapped up the equipment, and the other half of Scarecrow Bike & Key fell into place.
The bike shop opened in early May. John said they made 11¢ on the first day. (I didn’t ask what on earth had that price tag.) Not many touring cyclists reach Dubois in mud-and-slush season, and the startup was scary. But by the third week, he told me, “the floodgates opened.” (I don’t think he intended a metaphor; the actual snowmelt floods in Dubois didn’t begin until a few weeks after that.)
“We got bike after bike that had sat in a garage for ten years,” John said. “People would say, I just never wanted to take it all the way to Lander.”
Chris pointed out a vintage red-and-yellow model sitting outside the shop, waiting to be picked up. Its owner got it as a present for her ninth birthday. She wanted it tuned up so she could ride it again — at the age of 75.
What will happen to the business when the cycle tours end in the fall? Bicycles are always breaking, John responded calmly.
“That’s one good thing about bicycles,” Chris had said a few days earlier. “They are always repairable. And they always make you smile.”
© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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