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1919 - Closing of 13 Shopko stores not our fault

Some 13 cities and towns in Wyoming are reeling after the closure of one a main local business outlet.

         Shopko closed its general stores in Wheatland, Torrington, Newcastle, Greybull, Lander, Mountain View, Thermopolis, Worland, Powell, Buffalo, Douglas, Green River, and Afton in recent months, leaving customers in those towns scratching their heads about where are they going to go now for shopping and other needs?

         To cities the size of Cheyenne, Rock Springs, Laramie, or Sheridan, or Gillette, such a closure would be a problem but not a calamity. In these smaller towns, it is a crisis.

         Here in my town of Lander, Shopko will be missed.  Shoppers are 23 miles from a Walmart and a Walgreens in Riverton but still it is not handy.  We have lots of smaller stores and shops that will try to fill the need, but it is still a big loss.

         At first glance, the closure of all these stores gives us an inferiority complex.  Perhaps our local economies are not strong enough to support a store like Shopko?

         Or even worse, the modern internet economy must have killed them off. It is a sign of the times.  Or is it?

         Then there is the scourge of petty theft and shoplifting that is plaguing stores all across the country.  Pilferage has brought down many a small town store.

         Or could it be just bad management?  Folks who can survive the good times often are clueless how to succeed during the tough times.

         My theory is that all the above may have been factors in Shopko’s Wyoming demise, but the biggest reasons this chain of 363 stores failed were greed and short-term profit taking.

         Back when these were Pamida stores (named for the company’s founder’s three sons, Pat, Mike, and Dave and based in Omaha) this chain was profitable and successful.

         Like so many companies these days along came a hedge fund or other types of moneymen from Wall Street and they sucked poor Shopko dry. When all the money was gone, they declared bankruptcy, causing terrific ripple effects across the country in 363 small towns. The owners had paid themselves $117 million in dividends over the past four years.

         Our local store was always an odd duck.  It never seemed to have enough products on the shelves.  Its pharmacy was erratic until it was sold off in a desperate ploy on the part of the Shopko executives to raise cash. Their products often did not match the season or the market.  The corporate owners were not paying attention.

         In a word, it was a management style based on short-term vision and quick bucks for the owners. 

         Thus, it is important for folks in our small towns to not beat themselves up over the demise of an important local store. And it is another reason to celebrate our stores that have local owners or, at least, local Wyoming owners.

         Phil Roberts of Laramie blames the closures on greed and especially on the policies of President Donald Trump, which might be a bit of a stretch. He concludes, “All in all, the closures speak out for regulation of pure and simple corporate-raider greed as well as a sane trade policy.  The Shopko example brings it all home.”

         Parker Jackson of Lyman says of the Shopko closing, “For those of us in Bridger Valley, the closing of the Mountain View location means that things will go largely go back to the way they were before it opened.

“We do have Benedict`s, which most use for their grocery needs and a few other things. For a lot of goods like clothes, shoes, and electronics, most from Bridger Valley will drive half an hour to Walmart in Evanston or an hour to Rock Springs. For more specific shopping needs, people will go to Utah.  Some will also turn more towards online shopping options. 

“It is a loss for Mountain View and Lyman, but the extent remains to be seen,” he says. 

Tom Lubnau of Gillette takes a dimmer view, “Bill, you are thinking like a baby boomer.   Amazon is driving the closure of these stores.   When we wanted to see a TV show, we had to wait until next week to see it.   Our society is now used to pulling a magic box out of our pockets, pressing a few buttons and having something arrive on our doorstep.  

“Shopko is a symptom of a much greater disease which includes lack of interaction,” he concludes. 

 

1918 - The one of a kind historic Outlaw Inn

Wyoming has many iconic hotels. The Wolf Hotel in Saratoga, the Plains in Cheyenne, the Parkway Plaza (soon to reopen with a new name) in Casper, the Noble in Lander, the Irma in Cody, the Sheridan Inn in Sheridan, and the Occidental in Buffalo.

         But one of the most unique was in Rock Springs.

         Don Anselmi had a dream. But sometimes dreams were hard to come by in 1965 in his historic railroad town.

         He dreamed about a big hotel in a little town of 6,000 people. Reason for his dream was the audacious news that the largest highway project in United States history was poised to put a major east-west link through Sweetwater County.

         With his brother, attorney John Anselmi, bar owner Mike Vase, and petroleum distributor Vern Delgado, they borrowed $1.5 million, which was a fortune back in those days.

Soon they broke ground on a parcel of land at the intersection of Highway 191 and the new Interstate 80. A photo from the Rock Springs Daily Rocket Miner at the time shows a smiling Don Anselmi digging a spade-full of dirt. He was literally standing in the middle of nowhere.

         Now a big hotel in a small town is usually pretty big news but what made this hotel special was its unique and almost one-of-a-kind style.  It would be a huge complex with all the guest rooms, meeting rooms, restaurants, bar, and swimming pool under one big canopy.

         Delgado had friends in Pinedale who were from Lubbock, Texas, who had just built a new style of hotel.

         Its design included a huge canopy over everything, which brought the outdoors indoor. In Lubbock this was done because of the stifling heat. If used in Wyoming, it would be done because of the wind and the cold. 

         Hundreds of Holiday Inn Holidomes were built in the decades after this design made its debut, but the Lubbock hotel and the Outlaw in Rock Springs were the pacesetters. 

         Today, the Outlaw Inn is still in the hands of the Anselmi family.  Don’s son Mark with his wife Nancy have owned an interest in the hotel for 30 years and have owned it 100 percent for the past 17 years. And it has thrived.

         Today, Mark rolls his eyes when recalling the unique design on the front of hotel when it was built. But to Mark, as much as he appreciated its unique look, all he can remember are all the times when trucks collided with it. One time a UPS truck hit it with such velocity two of its wheels came off the ground.

         The hotel was doing okay and became a tourist site in its own right.  The summers were busy but the winters and springs, especially, could get slow.

         Then 1971 came along and everything changed.  Pacific Power and Light, the huge regional electrical power company, picked Rock Springs as the location for its gigantic Jim Bridger Power Plant.

         Besides that boom, if there was another golden age for the hotel, it was when Don Anselmi was the state chairman of the Wyoming Democratic Party.

         The hotel became the epicenter of Wyoming Democratic politics during this time. If something exciting was happening in the party, it often occurred right there at the Outlaw at the intersection of Interstate 80 and highway 191 in Rock Springs.

         In recent years, Mark and Nancy have invested millions of dollars to upgrade the entire look of the hotel. Today the exterior of the Outlaw is surrounded by new, bold, detached canopies that stand high enough to avoid any collisions by distracted truck drivers while the interior has seen complete renovation over the past seven years.

Most recently, several suites in the hotel have been furnished with unique furniture created by Centennial Woods of Laramie and designed by Russell Meyer using reclaimed wood used on early snow fences that protected Interstate 80 from driving snowstorms. 

         The first time this writer visited the Outlaw was in the early 1970s as my partners and I were in the process of buying the newspaper in neighboring Green River.

         This building makes a powerful first impression. I had never seen anything like it.  It was like walking into a giant spaceship. 

         Here, in little Rock Springs in little Wyoming, was this amazing structure. It was memorable.  Especially to me some 45 years ago. I had never seen anything like it. 

         The Outlaw is a historical marvel and has recently been listed as a National Historic Place. 

1917 - A cautionary tale a message for grads

I have seen the future.

It is just like today, only different.

Oops, it changed again.

Never mind.

 

         It is truly hard to imagine the kind of world today’s Wyoming High School graduates will be experiencing during their long lives after graduation.

         I have given commencement talks before. This is the one that I would give if asked to speak in high schools in Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, Rock Springs, Kemmerer, Evanston, Lander, Riverton, Afton, Powell, Sheridan, Worland, Wheatland, Torrington, Casper, Newcastle, Sundance, Upton, Greybull, Basin, Pine Bluffs, Lusk, Bridger Valley, or any other city or town where my column appears. Here is that talk in written form:

         Yes, their future is going to be different than any other future that has come before them.

         My parents and grandparents used words like “gumption” to describe someone who worked extra hard to try to get ahead.  What your generation of graduating seniors needs, to cope with what’s ahead, is gumption.

         Now here are six strategies about what you should do to get ahead:

         • Although working hard is a virtue, working “smart” is genius. 

• Education is the key but I am not talking about advanced degrees here.  I am talking about identifying a field you would like to work in and then learning everything you can about it. Best way to do this is talking with people already working in the field.  Another option is volunteering to work in the fringe parts of that industry.  Scanning the Internet for everything you can find out about trends in that field helps, too.  You can never learn enough.

• It is not who you know or what you know that counts in getting a good career going.  It is who you know AND what you know that will make all the difference. Locate and cultivate mentors.

• Responsibility, honesty, and ethics are critical. If you are loyal to those who you work with and for, you will be stunned by how far that will get you in your later careers.

• Timing is the single most important thing in getting ahead.  You must stay on top of trends and always, always check which way the economic winds are blowing.  You must be a man or woman of action.  Jump when you need to, but look before you leap.

• Today’s young people are more idealistic.  They want to save the world.  They want jobs where they feel they are making a difference.

I recall my high school graduation.  The overriding thought that ran through my head was “what is going to happen to me?” 

This is the most exciting time to be alive. Approach these times with optimism and love for your fellow human beings (plus gumption) and you should turn out just fine.

Most folks my age cannot recall what was said during their high school graduations.  But I can remember one thing from mine.  More on that later.

For over 50 years, I have been writing columns called messages for graduates Almost every one of these other columns was concerned about jobs and the economy.

         Instead, today, it is appropriate to go back to that message delivered to my 74 Baby Boomer classmates and me in 1964 in a stuffy gym in Elgin, Iowa.

         A future senator was our speaker. He said we could change the world. Change the world?

         This is a very hopeful message.  So how does one change the world?  Find a cure for cancer? Start a company or a charity or a movement, which will improve mankind? 

Perhaps you could affect somebody’s life who will go on to do wonderful things?

         Let’s go to the core. Let’s talk about ethics.  I am talking about you, as the graduate, looking in the mirror and deciphering what is looking back at you.

         This is a big deal.  Ethics are needed more today by our graduates than ever before. My favorite definition of ethics is how you behave when no one is watching.

         A wise old guy named B. T. McManus once told me: “Bill, if you always tell the truth, it is amazing how easy it is to remember what you said.”  McManus founded the Bi-Rite Drug Store chain.

Over time, you learn there are absolutes in life. 

         Ethics. Morals.  Standards.  Rules.  What are your guiding principles? Are graduates too young to contemplate such a concept? I doubt that.

         Everyone needs a roadmap.  And a roadmap defined by ethics and morals can be the best tool you can have to ensure that you enjoy a successful life.

1916 - Ah Springs, the most bi-polar month

Like most Wyomingites, spring is the season that is most confusing to me.  The season is bi-polar. It cannot decide if it is winter or summer!

         But when it comes to beauty is there a time of year when the state is more beautiful than in the spring?

         The sparkling green of new growth of grass reflected off the canyon rocks with a few white snowdrifts here and there – that is the picture of colorful beauty.

         And our mountains are so white with snow.  Our Wind River Mountains, which run from the northern edge of Sweetwater County, through Sublette and Fremont Counties and end up in Park and Teton Counties were often called the “shining mountains” by the early pioneers.  You could see them from a hundred miles away as the snow would glisten.

         And this description also applies to the Big Horns, the Wyoming Range, the Sierra Madres, the Tetons, and others around the state.

         We spotted the Winds from a long ways off during a recent trip where we were returning to Lander from out west. That long range of mountains truly glistened in the bright sun. The scene of the brilliant blue sky and the snow-packed mountains was magnificent.

         Perhaps the most beautiful area during this trip was the huge box canyon known as Red Canyon about 30 miles southeast of our home.  It is a bright red but with the new growth of green grass and those above-mentioned snowdrifts here and there – well, it was a sight for sore eyes. Best part of seeing it in the springtime on this trip, though, was that a dry highway passed through it. South Pass can be a bugger this time of year.

         That area is also home to the vast Red Desert, which is one of the largest unfenced areas in the United States. Its basin is unique because the Continental Divide splits and goes around it and the assumption is that no water leaks out of it, headed either east to the Atlantic Ocean or west to the Pacific Ocean.

         In the spring, though, the area should be called the Green Desert as it truly blooms.

         Outside of Wyoming, in much of the United States, spring is a time of tilling the soil, putting out flower plants, and long walks in short sleeve shirts.

         Now here, spring often offers something quite different. Wyoming’s other seasons are quite predictable.  For example:

Summer features long sun-filled days, low humidity, the bluest skies in America and cool, wonderful nights. It is a time of golf and of camping. It is a time of enjoying five hours of daylight after work and birds chirping in the crispy, early-morning air.

         Fall is when the famous brown and gold of Wyoming comes to light. Many visitors and newcomers are often disappointed in the over-abundance of these colors in our landscapes.  Veteran Wyomingites feel just the opposite. Many people actually prefer fall as their favorite season.  It is time for the annual hunting trip, which means heading to the upper country or the high prairies.

         Winter is snowy with long nights, wind chill factor concerns, and closures of mountain passes and major highways.  It is a time for snowmobiling, skiing, and watching football and basketball on TV. It is a time when we all bundle up and make sure we are prepared for any emergency.

         But springtime in Wyoming, wow! Normally it is mud season, but not so bad so far. Our fierce winds have dried things out in the valleys. 

Temperatures have soared into the 70s and it is balmy much of the time. April is actually our wettest month of the year with lots of wet, heavy snow

I heard an expression by a TV weather reporter, who kept referring to their all-time record cold weather as coming after they had had a “false” spring.

         My favorite way to describe Wyoming’s four seasons is: Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter, and Construction.

         Lander’s Del McOmie shared a funny weather description that he found on the Wyoming Going Blue Facebook page. It included one really cool season called “sprinter,” which I think is now.

         Meanwhile up in Jackson, where they had record this winter, a huge pile of snow is causing concern.  It is the result of 12,000 dump truck loads of snow and it is gradually melting.

         It has been named “what in the Sam Hill” after Sam Jewison, the public works director.  He is hoping it will be melted by Memorial Day.

1915 - Wyoming full of interestng facts and figures

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. – Mark Twain

 

         You could always find lots of cars and trucks around my home.  I am an admitted car nut and just love vehicles of all kinds.

         Perhaps out here in Wyoming it is a throwback to a time when your wealth was tied to the number of horses you had. And if wealth were connected to the number of cars you own, my friend Joe Kenney would be a multi-millionaire.  I think he has ten vehicles, two motorcycles, and an airplane at last count.

         I am down to an old Ford Excursion, a six-year old Lincoln and a 17-year old hail-damaged Lexus convertible.  Oh yeah, we also have a 14-year old motorhome.

         So here is my question for all of you: Wyoming has 579,315 people.  How many cars and trucks are there?  Do you think there are more vehicles than people here in Wyoming?

         Our local Fremont County Commissioner Mike Jones sent me the current most updated 2018 statistics from the United States Census Bureau, which measures all these things. It has some surprising info about my own county and even more surprising data about the state of Wyoming.

         If you guessed that, yes, Wyoming has more vehicles than it has people, you were right.  The 579,315 people in the state own 603,717 licensed cars and trucks.

         People (especially wives) repeat the old saw: “The only difference between men and boys is the cost and size of all their toys.”

         Toys? Yeah, here in Wyoming, we have toys. And most of them are registered with the state government.  Besides cars and trucks, we have 294,164 “other” vehicles.

More importantly, this total includes trailers, lots of trailers. Including RVs, this amounts to an astonishing total of 207,413 trailers. It also includes 26,144 motorcycles.

         Snowmobiles, boats, airplanes, and ATVs are not listed in this total but obviously would add big numbers if they were.

         Wyoming people drive more miles per year than folks in any other state. That average is 16,800 miles for every man, woman, and child. Amazing.  No wonder my tires keep wearing out.

         These miles are traveled on our 30,430 miles of highways and roads in our state. Of this total, 6,075 are federal.  Did you know that the longest highway in America is US 26?  Closely followed by Interstate 80, which I believe is the longest interstate highway in the country, stretching from New York City to San Francisco, closely following the route of famous US 30 Lincoln Highway.  It was Honest Abe who first proposed this national road along about 1863, when he was pretty much preoccupied with the Civil War and getting the transcontinental railroad built.

         In Wyoming, we like to brag about our low taxes but the state collected $686,766,223 in sales and use taxes.  That is a pile of money.

         Property taxes collected across the state amounted to over a billion dollars with a total of $1,344,432,107.  

         My columns are limited to 750 words so I have to cherry-pick items here.  It would fill a whole bunch of pages to write about all of this detail.

         In my business career, after starting out as a reporter and ad salesmen, I developed a love for data and numbers.  This surprised everyone. To me, numbers are not just numbers – they tell big stories.  I used to love the early IBM advertisements for computer systems where they pictured businesspersons pondering spreadsheets. The caption read: “Not just data but reality.” Just love that concept.

School statistics could take up an entire column.  There are 48 school districts in Wyoming with one-sixth of them in Fremont County.

There are 355 schools located from one end of the state to the other. There are 7,248 teachers and 736 administrators. According to these reports, there are 6,884 other staff to help keep things going.

Total enrollment is 93,647 students.  We have a graduation rate of 81.7 percent. The composite ACT score for juniors in high school was 19.5 in 2018.

Total general fund expenses for education were $1,493,600,712 for a per-student average of $17,694. This is one of the highest rates in the country.  In my county of Fremont (with its eight districts), the average per student cost was an amazing $22,299.

I will wrap this up by sharing that the U. S. Government owns 46,313 square miles out the state’s total of 97,093 square miles. The Bureau of Land Management controls 27,162 square miles of this total.

It is a big place with big numbers.