The Provisions Problem Way Out in Wyoming

Question: How do you get food out there? Answer:

Superfoods6Sometimes you just have to chuckle. An acquaintance from New York City this week cautioned me against opening our bedroom window at night because of the risk from all those white supremacists out in the West.

A more common misguided concern about our lives in remote Wyoming is that we must find it difficult to get groceries. I politely explain that, while we do live 15 miles away (not a block, as in Brooklyn), there is a good grocery store in town.

Proprietor Steve Williams calls SuperFoods a “country store.” This is true, strictly speaking. But the cracker-barrel gestalt must have gone away more than 40 years ago, when the Grubbs split off the grocery business from the rest of the old Dubois Mercantile general store.

They reopened it in the former bowling alley up the road. This tips you off that SuperFoods is a supermarket, not really a “country store”—and a surprisingly large one for a town the size of Dubois.

Superfoods3But it still is a small-town store, or as Steve’s business card puts it, “Your friendly home-town grocer.” To survive, he has to meet two challenges: Competition from the larger supermarkets down-county in Lander and Riverton, and what he called the “Tale of Two Cities” problem.

“There is the crazy busy summer months when Dubois mushrooms to over 3,000 people and then shrinks back down to 950 or so when the tourists and 2nd home owners leave,” he wrote, in an open letter to the community prompted by some critical posts on Facebook. “How does a business triple their staff and capacity and cut back by 70% in the winter?” A motel can close some rooms in the slow season. But can the supermarket shut down from Monday through Wednesday?

Superfoods’ response has not been to cut the quality or quantity of goods in the slower months, let alone eliminating open days. Quite the contrary.

A few weeks ago, I comparison shopped while running other errands in Riverton. The prices on the produce were not uniformly lower at Smith’s or Safeway, and the quality was no better. Safeway didn’t even have any fresh ginger root (I inquired of the produce manager), which I never have trouble finding at Superfoods.

Yes, pistachio nuts were less expensive down county, but the stuff you can’t wait to buy was not.

And among the 20,000 items Steve says he has in stock, I’m seeing more of those tasty gourmet condiments you wouldn’t expect to find in the back-and-beyond.

(If what I’m after is elk or venison or even smoked mozzarella, of course there’s Wind River Meats just up the road.)

Superfoods1We used to take hour-long trips down county with our big cooler to buy produce in Riverton. No more.

Dubois SuperFoods may not have the rare mushrooms or huge bins of fresh green beans we could find in a Korean vegetable store in Brooklyn. But even if I can’t always find exactly what I want, what I do find is usually fine–even in the slow season.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Midwinter News from the Dubois Home Front

Beyond visible plans for reviving main street, there’s so much else that’s new in town this New Year.

As we begin to pack for the great return trek westward, news from Dubois in the “bleak midwinter” is anything but bleak. Not only have we seen the plans for the revival of our main street, there’s plenty more that’s new about town.

I guess when winter sets in and short-term visitors are largely confined to the mountain passes (with their snowmobiles), Dubois can take a deep

DuboisRising
The motto on the town’s float in the last July 4 parade: Dubois rising. Everyone from town knew what that was about.

breath and get down to business in earnest.

This time last year, we heard the distressing news that the county was planning to exclude Dubois from ambulance service, having chosen to install a professional EMT operation that wasn’t breaking even. Dubois’ indomitable Mayor Twila Blakeman leaped into action. Within a few months, 18 residents had completed training and qualified as EMTs. (Note that! 18, in a population of only 1,000.) She had also found funding for air ambulance service when ground service isn’t feasible. Just try to kill this town off, literally or figuratively! The story isn’t over, but my bet is that the outlook is hopeful.

Back to 2016: I’ve been gone from town for only a few weeks now, and there’s plenty of news from friends:

Pizza’s back! After the closure of the main-street restaurant Paya, which served better pizza than any we can get in Brooklyn, I suffered pizza withdrawal all last summer. Paya has been reborn under different ownership as Hooper’s, I’m told, and the pizza there is also said to be great. (Rumor has it that a former Paya chef has been sighted at the brick oven lately.) Meanwhile Cobbler, the riverside restaurant just behind and across the parking lot from Hooper’s, will reopen under the same management as a bakery and deli-style sandwich shop. Great call: We’ve also been missing a good bakery for some time, and visitors will appreciate the made-to-order sandwich option.

Flume1
Remains of a flume used to float milled logs toward the river

Tie hack history brought to life? Former Mayor Bob Baker has been hatching plans to found a “living museum” devoted to the legendary lumbermen who worked in our mountains cutting and milling ties for the railroads, early in the last century. Although there are museums dedicated to the topic of lumbering in Arkansas, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Texas, evidently none specifically honors the tie hacks who were so important to our nation’s history. At present, all Dubois can offer for that purpose is a stone obelisk on a hill above the highway west of town (yawn … ). It has taken me years to begin to appreciate this particular history, perhaps because it wasn’t presented vividly enough. I think this is a terrific idea, especially for the next generation, and I hope it succeeds.

Brighter future for the town website. Developers are about to begin testing an update to the town’s Internet face to the world, the website www.duboiswyoming.org. (Full disclosure: I have provided the text for the new pages.) As you see it today, the website has an old-fashioned, rustic look and feel, puts cowboys front and center, and begins its description with “In Dubois time seems to move at a slower pace.” I’m hoping the new version will gymgrab prospective visitors with breathtaking images and text that compels them to pack their bags and come see for themselves.

Way better than elliptical: My hiking buddy says she’s started a snowshoe club. What great news! This is the kind of venture that keeps me going to the gym every morning back in Brooklyn, where I listen to John Denver on my headphones, look at visions of the mountains in my head rather than the yobbos on the flat screen TVs, and try to focus on more important goals than optimizing my appearance.

©Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Dubois One Year After the Fire: Busy Re-storing

Last year this time, fire devastated downtown Dubois WY. Something beautiful is about to rise from the ashes.

DuboisFire
Thanks to Joe Brandl for picture.

Prepare yourself when you turn that corner, a friend warned me last January as we neared Dubois on our return from the holidays.

Her words didn’t do much to dampen the shock. On the main street, it looked as if someone had neglected to remove a ghastly and elaborate Halloween display. Beyond the safety barricades, you couldn’t miss the sagging and crumbling black beams, the broken and charred window frames.

As many across the nation heard on the news last December 31, a huge fire had broken out in the center of Dubois the previous evening. It burned on into the wee hours. While volunteers tried to battle the flames, water kept freezing inside the hoses.

“I am certain that this most remote and greatest little town in the lower 48 will turn this disaster into a new start of something even better,” I wrote on Facebook. “The community spirit there is beyond describing. Just watch what will rise from these ashes!”

DuboisMercantileSite1215
Photo: Karen McCullough

I’m no prophet. But I know our town.

All this year, the view out the front window of the Rustic Pine Tavern has looked all wrong, empty and gaping, as if the hardware store parking lot was trespassing southward. What’s going to materialize there? I wondered, and so did everyone else.

One day in the spring, I saw the property owner Jeff Sussman huddled in a corner at the Rustic with realtor Leon Sanderson. But we didn’t hear any public news, other than a promise that the site would be redeveloped.

As soon as humanly possible (given the time needed for insurance investigations, demolition, planning approval, construction contracts, and un-freezing of the ground), construction will commence on this:

DuboisDevelopment3.
Image: Wind River Land & Bldg. Co/Belkin Architects

Last summer, Mayor Twila Blakeman told me that Jeff had raised the issue of holding a town meeting about the project. She recalled telling him, “Everyone liked what you did with the rest of the buildings [in that block]. Just do what you think best.”

Jeff recalls the conversation differently. He says Twila told him to go the usual route, via the planning commission (which no doubt she also did, and he proceeded to do).

“No one in the town has been anything but positive,” he said. “Everyone wanted it to be sort of Western, but when you asked someone what do you mean: Western 1905? Western 1940? … We understood what we wanted to do.”

But this isn’t the Wild West. Anyone who says it’s wide open and you can do whatever you want to do, he hastened to add, is talking “nonsense.”

A Carl Hiaasen or God forbid Annie Proulx would have a high time with the Sussman character: A high-profile New York commercial real-estate developer who moved to Dubois to set up a cattle ranch and bought up the best property downtown. But I see him more in a Wallace Stegner novel: A man from the East captivated by and ultimately committed to the West.

Jeff and his wife, the painter Susan Sussman, found Dubois almost by accident. They were looking in Montana, but ended up dividing the Rocking Chair ranch property in Dubois with another couple who wanted only a small part of the land for a guest ranch.

Their part became the Diamond D Cattle company, which two years ago won the distinction “Landowners of the Year” from Wyoming Game & Fish for its innovative wildlife conservation efforts, largely implemented by manager Reg Phillips, in dealing with threats from wolves and bears.

“It was a great leap of faith, and we just fell in love with the place,” Jeff told me. “It was an amazing learning experience, and I’m glad we did it.” He said they were especially fortunate to have found Reg and Aline Phillips, who had been with the ranch before and made the learning experience “terrific”.

These are no absentee landlords. When they’re in town, they’re visibly in town, and they have plenty of friends. I first met Jeff when he and Susan sponsored an open bar at the Rustic on his birthday several years ago.

So what will become of the empty lot? It’s described as a mix of retail and offices. “It’s 3 buildings, but from its appearance, you’ll think 5,” Jeff said. “We used altered facades and materials. We didn’t want people to just think ‘mall’.”

DuboisDevelopment2
Image: Wind River Land & Bldg. Co. /Belkin Architects

Jeff foresees an array of craftspeople in his shops: Saddlemakers, jewelry designers, people who make buckles, hats, and boots. “If we can get known as a place where there are lots of craftsmen, that would be great,” he said.

Reg Phillips, who is managing the construction effort, is energized by the potential to attract office tenants who will capitalize on one of the town’s best assets: Its status as a poster child for excellent Internet access in a remote area.

The plans will be out to bid next month or February latest, and ground will be broken in the spring, as soon as Nature allows.

“I’m not going to wait for tenants,” Jeff told me yesterday. “We’re going to build.”

© Lois Wingerson, 2015

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Wyoming Wool Works. Wow! (Who Knew?)

I never even noticed this charming shop which would fare well on the streets of trendy Brooklyn. Why is it so invisible in Dubois?

wyowool10How could I have lived in Dubois for 8 years without even knowing about Wyoming Wool Works? Because it was in hiding.

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.

wyowool2Wyoming Wool Works is no mere purveyor of yarns and crochet hooks (although you can buy those, including one made from a ram’s horn).

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.

wyowool6Like me, she fell in love with the area.

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.

wyowool1“My husband once asked me if I ever tried to relax,” she said. “I told him I don’t know how.”

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.

wyowool5“I thought for a while about only operating through the website,” she said. “But then I asked myself, what are you really doing here?”

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.

wyowool8She told me with some delight about a recent phone call. A woman from Jackson wanted to bring a group of friends over here to go Christmas shopping. Would Anita open the shop for them?

“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

Dubois Love Letter #3: Best Internet Anywhere?

Only one highway runs through Dubois WY, and slowly. But another one, invisible, is very speedy. Accidents are exceedingly rare.

Living in one of the most remote towns in the United States has many advantages. One of them, incredible as it may seem, is virtually flawless Internet service. Here’s why.Dubois broadband

The picture at right shows Michael Kenney’s whimsical clothesline, made from really old telephone poles and transformers. It’s funny because Michael, who is the head of our local telephone company (DTE, for Dubois Telephone Exchange), is one of the most forward-thinking and progressive people I’ve ever met. In charge of a rural phone company, he long ago began to see beyond telephones.

Michael has been a prime mover in the national effort to bring broadband to rural areas. The golden thread I’m using to transmit these words right now is a shining example of his success.

The Internet service here is fast and reliable. We watch movies on Netflix all the time, virtually without interruption. I can’t remember when I last lost service while working on a website.

Before my retirement last June, I telecommuted from Dubois and from my home in New York City for 8 years. Working in the city was a nightmare, even though we used one of the largest Internet service providers, Time Warner Cable. Service would wink out unpredictably, and customer service reps (who obviously didn’t know Brooklyn from the Bronx from Bangalore) would apologize incessantly and ineffectively. They hadn’t a clue. I became a regular at the library and at Starbucks.

Dubois broadbandHere in Dubois, one Friday evening several years ago I ran into Michael at happy hour at the Rustic Pine Tavern. I mentioned to him that my Internet service had stopped at about 3:30 (no problem, because I worked on Eastern time and that was the end of the work week back in Norwalk).

“A backhoe ran over a cable in Cody,” Michael said. “It will be fixed in 3 hours.”

Michael’s minions spent last summer laying fiber optic cable over the pass, working right past our house. Now there are multiple redundancies, Michael told me recently. If our line fails, another one will kick in. These days, the Internet never kicks out.

By the way, DTE has been running a webcam for many years at the spot in the middle of Dubois where the highway hangs a right-angle turn. This is an easy way to get a quick feel for the other kind of traffic that passes through here (much more slowly). You can watch it at http://webcam.rangefamily.net/~dubois/ .

 

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© Lois Wingerson 2015

Best Barbecue in Texas Relocates to Dubois

This cute-as-a-button spot is a welcome new addition to our culinary options in Dubois.

Barbecue2 This cute-as-a-button spot is a welcome new addition to our culinary options in Dubois.

Reportedly designated the “best barbecue in Texas” in Richard Troxell’s Barbecuing Around Texas, Buddy Bevers’ barbecue stop offers ribs, brisket, and more.

The Bevers’ folks bought property in town many years ago, and now they have made the happy decision to relocate here as well.Barbecue1

I stopped by a day or two ago and invested $5 in two huge ribs, skipping the sauce for now (didn’t want to risk a stain).

I’m no barbecue expert, but the ribs were certainly meaty and delicious. Hit the spot.

Bevers’ barbecue is located just to the west of the Branding Iron Inn, where guests can corral their horses on the property. It’s a five-minute walk from where the highway heads south in the dead center of town.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

Incredible Opportunity in Dubois

A tribute to perhaps the finest establishment in Dubois, the Opportunity Shop, where commerce enhances community.

Dubois WY

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© Lois Wingerson 2015

Dubois Rising

demolition_with_boysAt left, two young lads watched with interest as the last building damaged in the devastating December 30 fire comes down. I asked their names at the time, but unfortunately forgot them before I sat down to write this.

Dubois fire
Downtown Dubois on 12/31/14. Photo credit: Alan Rogers/Casper Star-Tribune

The fire, widely reported in the national media, destroyed a half block of historic buildings on the main street. (You can see some more dramatic pictures at Dubois fire.)

The fire was caused by overheating of wooden walls too close to a chimney. Subzero temperatures caused the water lines in the fire hoses to freeze up as volunteer firefighters battled the flames in the wee hours.

Community response was, predictably, immediate and robust, reflecting the strong feelings that residents, former residents, and longtime repeat visitors have for the Dubois community.

A crowd-sourced relief fund raised nearly $12,000 for affected business owners over six months. Another fund coordinated by the local charity Needs of Dubois and St. Thomas Episcopal Church raised about $88,000.

Contributions at the annual Swedish Smorgasbord event in June and other sources raised money for a new fire engine with hoses that will not freeze overnight in Dubois’ high-mountain winter temperatures.

DuboisRisingThe theme of the Independence Day parade was “Dubois Rising” (see the float with that motto in the image at right). Nobody needed to be told what that was about.

Meanwhile, the demolition proceeded. The new empty lot offers residents a startling view, straight through from the hardware store and its parking lot to the world’s most unique bar (the Rustic Pine Tavern) — or vice versa. We’re used to seeing timber storefronts and a board sidewalk.

JeffsBareLotWhat’s going to happen here? We’re eager to find out.

“How could I not rebuild?” said the property owner Jeff Sussman in the local newspaper, not long after the fire. Now that the insurance reports are submitted, architects’ plans are under consideration.

A New York commercial real estate broker, Jeff and his wife Susan also own and manage the Diamond D ranch here. Jeff and Susan are anything but absentee landlords. You often see them in the Rustic when they’re in town, and they celebrated Jeff’s recent birthday with an open bar.

When I spotted Jeff in town not long ago, I mentioned that heart-warming statement in the Frontier, which was a beacon of hope at a devastating time for a town whose economy relies heavily on tourism and therefore on the face it presents to those passing through.

“I meant it,” he replied. “We’ve lived here for years. I wasn’t just going to take the insurance buyout. This town means a great deal to us.”

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© Lois Wingerson 2015