Economy Taking its Toll on Businesses That Have Long Been State Landmarks

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Owning and taking care of horses is obviously one of the great joys for a lot of Wyoming people. To me, I like to ride them, but have never had the urge to own one.

Imagine my surprise back in the 1970s, when one of my former business partners (and my boss) Bruce Kennedy asked me to spend a week at his Greybull house, looking after his property and mainly, babysitting his prize horses. I also helped to manage our newspapers in Greybull and Cody, but most of my memories are about taking care of his four-legged critters.

I really enjoyed working with those horses. And while handling that chore, I also got acquainted with the famous Probst Western Store in downtown Greybull. This store had been a landmark in the Big Horn Basin since 1944 and was famous for its horse statue on the roof.

Well, the Probst Store is no more. The pioneer retailer closed its doors earlier this fall and the formerly busy corner of State Highway 789 and Greybull Ave. is silent.

This is a sign of our current declining state economy. These can be challenging times for all types of retail outlets, both big and small, in big cities and small towns all across Wyoming. Owner Jeff Probst said his family, which had operated the store for three generations and 71 years, succumbed “to an economy which dealt us a thousand cuts,” prompting the decision to close the doors.

Another landmark outside of Greybull on the way to Shell Canyon closed after 26 years. The famous Dirty Annie’s shut down earlier this year. It was a great little convenience store that made wonderful milkshakes.

In Casper, a much bigger city than Greybull, people have been shaken by recent closures. The landmark Petroleum Club is closing. The future is up in the air for the historical and infamous Wonder Bar.

In the Oil City, the downturn in the price of petroleum products, oil, natural gas and coal, has hit Casper hard. The city is working with a private company to manage its vast Events Center, subsidized to the tune of $1 million per year.

No need to write about Gillette. That formerly booming city has been struggling. I am confident its progressive citizens will keep it humming.

I was in Rock Springs recently. Despite being a dynamic hub of oil and gas and now feeling the effects of that downturn, most folks think the city will be okay. General Manager/Editor Deb Sutton of the Rocket-Miner said she was proud of how diversified her town had become.

In Pinedale, Editor Steve Crane told me that real estate has taken a hit in their town with prices “becoming more realistic” compared to the booming prices seen in the past decade.

Kmarts are set to close in Riverton and Cody.

Sheridan and Buffalo have not seen any major closings but both towns have a sizeable portion of their economies devoted to oil, natural gas and coal.

Former Lovell and Thermopolis publisher Pat Schmidt reminded me of how we all watched as most of our local JC Penney and Montgomery Ward Stores closed years ago.

Biggest growth in retailing, he believes, has been in the arrival of the so-called “dollar stores;” seems to be one or two in every town.

Retail-wise, there have been attempts to create local “community stores,” which flourished for a while. Worland and Torrington closed theirs and a similar Powell store recently shuttered, too.

John Davis says Worland just keeps chugging along, yet, some stores have closed and some new businesses have opened and others have expanded.

“There is one store where you can buy socks and shoestrings, but more and more these kinds of little things can only be obtained in Billings, or, perhaps, in Cody. Nowhere can you buy shoes in Worland. A bookstore would have no chance.

“All this is taking place in a town that has grown a little in the last twenty years. Not to be paranoid about it, but small town America seems to be dying. What still is going strong here are professional offices and the hospital, banks (although some are now owned by out of town people), the Pepsi companies and agriculture. Three or four restaurants are doing okay.”

It has been predicted that this economic downturn could last for a decade or more. It will be interesting to see how many other landmark businesses are able to weather these economic storms across our beloved state.




Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at www.billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written six books. His newest is “Wyoming at 125,” which is now on sale at fine bookstores. His books are available at www.wyomingwonders.com.