Small businesses gear up for holiday shopping days

Books, clothes, outdoor gear, toys, bath soaps, cooking spices, hobby supplies, massages, movies, dinner, coffee, artwork.

Small businesses across Casper are stocked with these and more holiday gifts, with many offering sales, events, treats and other goodies to draw customers this holiday season. One of the biggest shopping days of the year for many of them is the Saturday after Thanksgiving, known as Small Business Saturday.

The growing movement promotes locally-owned shops to support them and the local economy while strengthening the community.

 Shopping local generates tax dollars for the town, county and state, and importantly, it generates local income, said Anne Alexander, who earned her doctorate degree in economics at University of Wyoming and is the Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Education there.

“When we shop locally, our neighbors who own and work at small businesses use the money to pay payroll, insurance, their light bill, their grocery bill,” Alexander said in an email. “The holidays, especially events like Small Business Saturday, can get people into stores and shops and using services they may not have ever explored or thought about before.”

Supporting, being part of local community

Small Business Saturday is an alternative to online shopping or big-box stores’ Black Friday deals, said Nicole Crabb, co-owner and art director of Rally Shop Local, a marketing and media company for local businesses.

The company is kicking off the holiday shopping season with a Small Business Saturday event Nov. 26 at Scarlow’s Gallery downtown with a pop-up bar, coffee and shuttle rides. The event is designed to spotlight local shops, restaurants and services with a fun, social event, Crabb said.

“When you spend your money locally, you’re supporting your community,” Crabb said. “Basically the people in the businesses is what makes Casper, Casper.”

Claire Marlow is the owner of Scarlow’s Gallery and the adjoining Goedicke’s Custom Framing & Art Supply, as well as a new mother of an 8-month-old. She also looks forward to kicking off holiday shopping season with an event that people will enjoy, she said.

The best part of running a small business is getting to know customers and drawing the community closer with events from this weekend’s event to the monthly Casper Art Walks, she said.

Business has been slower this year with Wyoming’s economic downturn for her and her fellow downtown businesses. Small businesses often are forgotten and hit hardest, Marlow said.

“Everyone is definitely feeling it, and I think that’s why we work so hard and are doing these sorts of events,” Marlow said. “It’s not just to spend money, but to come out and be a part of it.”

Local shopping is crucial to keeping small bookstores and other shops alive, and the holidays are an important time for them, Wind City Books owner Vicki Burger said.

“I think for any retail businesses the Christmas season is vital and part of your projection of your budget for the coming year,” Burger said.

“For any retail business, it’s a large percentage of your annual income.”

Sylvia Hiler opened Alpenglow, a health food and products store, nearly three decades ago and has seen online shopping hit local businesses, including hers. She believes the local shopping movements are beginning bring more business to local shops, and she’s seen more young people in the store lately.

“It’s especially important to Wyoming because of the downturn in the industries,” Hiler said. “If we had all those tax dollars that are going to the internet, we could definitely use them in this state.”

Visitors to local shops will see fliers that Rally and Backwards Distillery recently posted around local storefronts detailing the impact of Amazon sales in Wyoming. Numbers they gathered from state that last year Amazon sold $116.7 million to Wyoming while avoiding $6.3 million in state and local sales tax.

Small Business Saturday started as an American Express initiative in 2010 and is celebrated by mom-and-pop shops around the country.

“The Small Business Saturday numbers indicate that since this became an emphasis – in response to Black Friday craziness – about a third of Americans shop small on Small Business Saturday,” Alexander said. “More than $14 billion is spent in local small businesses on that day alone. That’s pretty impressive.”

Outside the box

 Local businesses can offer a higher level of service and more fun shopping experiences, Burger said. For instance, several customers come in to her bookstore each year with lists of ages and genders of their grandchildren or nieces and nephews.

Burger and her staff members walk them through the store and help them pick out books, which customers later tell them were hits, she said. The store also offers pricing competitive with Amazon though its website, and customers online or in person can order any book not in stock to arrive within days, Burger said.

Reed Merschat looks forward to the first holiday season of his new antiques and collectibles store, Survivor AC Dealers. People can find antique display items and quirky, functional home items increasingly popular with retro-obsessed younger crowds. You can’t find any of that at a big-box store, he said.

“If you’re into older electronics or antique glass figurines or whatever, usually you can find something that somebody will enjoy,” Merschat said. “It’s got a better story than new items.”

Local shops are scattered throughout Casper and surrounding communities, offering everything from music to fishing and camping gear, Crabb said. She encourages people to also consider gift certificates for locally-owned restaurants, spas, salons, massage therapists, coffee and other businesses that remind people to take time out for themselves.

“Those are some of the best gifts,” she said.

Local businesses often serve treats and run specials on Small Business Saturday.

“It really can build a sense of community,” Alexander said. “It feels a little less commercial and a lot more like a community celebration, in my opinion. More in spirit with the season.”

Supporting local businesses keeps unique stores in town and benefits not just local families, but the entire community, Crabb said. They in turn support other local artists, artisans and business and often local charities – often without recognition.

“These are people who know what people need in Casper,” Crabb said. “They have our local flavor here … and you get to know your community here. It’s the relationship.”

 Follow reporter Elysia Conner on Twitter @ink_pix

Casper businesses look forward to Black Friday boost

For 12 years, Kathy Edwards has decked out her jewelry store for her busiest day of the holiday season — Black Friday.

Every year, a handful of regulars stop by her store, The Cadillac Cowgirl, the day after Thanksgiving, she said. They’ve come to expect the Black Friday deals and like to check in with Edwards’ children, who have worked in the store off and on for years, she said.

“It’s more than just shopping, it’s catching up with your neighbors,” she said. “It’s an experience.”

 Although Black Friday shopping was popularized by corporate retailers, small businesses in Casper have taken advantage of the national trend to attract customers. But unlike customers at larger stores who have to wait in lines and fight through crowds to do their shopping, shoppers in Casper experience a Black Friday that’s a more low-key family affair. Many stores are also expanding their Black Friday deals into the following Saturday.

An increasing number of local businesses have been participating in Black Friday sales and Small Business Saturday, said Gilda Lara, executive director of the Casper Chamber of Commerce. The holiday season is a key time for small businesses to make money, she said, and Black Friday sales set the tone for the season.

Mike Stepp, owner of Donells Candies, said Black Friday is the big kickoff for the store’s holiday season, which is especially important after a few years of sluggish sales.

“They call it Black Friday because that’s when you finally start to break into the black” and make a profit, Stepp said.

The amount of product sold that day often predicts how sales will be through the holiday season, he said, though sometimes bad weather keeps people home.

Some more specialized stores, like Wyoming Camera Outfitters, have a more difficult time creating Black Friday sales, especially when operating on an already slim profit margin.

Owner William “Dinty” Miller said the camera store is always competing with internet prices. Instead of setting its own Black Friday discounts, the store passes on the Black Friday deals from the camera companies, like Canon.

Business has been pretty steady despite Casper’s most recent economic downturn because the store has a regional customer base, but the expected Black Friday bump is always welcome.

“It’s important to support your local economies,” he said. “The internet is the internet, and it’s its own monster, but the internet can’t do a lot of the things we can.”

Local, family-owned businesses are important to creating a sense of community in Casper, the business owners said. The mixture of businesses downtown makes sure there’s shopping to be done for every member of the family, Edwards said.

“To me it’s a thing to do, not a chore,” she said. “It’s not like sitting outside the big box store at 4 a.m. It’s fun, and you can do it with your family.”

 Follow crime and courts reporter Elise Schmelzer on Twitter @eliseschmelzer

New bar coming to Old Yellowstone District

It looks like central Casper will be getting a new bar: “Roaring 22.”

A team of local businessmen is moving ahead with plans to develop a building on the corner of Midwest Avenue and Ash Street into a bar and grill with adjacent retail and condo space.

The site, on the corner of Midwest Avenue and Ash Street, is on the border of downtown and the Old Yellowstone District and across the street from Racca’s pizzeria. The 24,000-square-foot downstairs has been home to many businesses including housing a Plymouth auto dealership for many years.

Matt Galloway presented plans for Roaring 22 to City Council in July as part of the application for a new liquor license city had made available. The council granted the license to Old Yellowstone Garage.

Instead, Galloway and his partners — Pete Maxwell, Richie Bratton and Mark Galloway — are purchasing a retail liquor license from the Ramada Hotel. The hotel will then apply for a resort liquor license. Those come with restrictions but are not capped based on a city’s population like retail licenses are.

A public hearing on the license transfer will be held at the Nov. 15 Casper City Council meeting. Galloway said he’s optimistic that the license will be approved, though he said, “I take nothing for granted, and nothing surprises me.”

Galloway said specific plans for the bar will not entirely match those outlined in the July presentation.

“We’re kind of in total flux,” he said.

But Galloway said initial work can begin as soon as the license transfer is approved and that the bar should open by early summer, in time for the eclipse festival in August, when thousands of visitors are expected to descend on Casper.

“We’re no dummies,” he said. “We definitely want to be open by the eclipse.”

Galloway added that work should move relatively quickly because it will be a renovation rather than new construction.

The plan presented in July called for a bar and grill catering to young professionals, featuring an area with arcade-style games and a microbrewery that customers could use to brew their own beer.

“I can assure you we will have a bar and grill area. We will serve food, booze and beer,” Galloway said. The bar and grill is expected to take up 10,000 square feet.

In addition, Galloway said there will be three retail spaces — which he hopes will include a coffee shop, among other businesses — and four condo spaces on the second floor.

Galloway owns Keg and Cork with his brother and helps run Galloway’s Irish Pub, owned by his father. The family also owns El Mark-O Lanes bowling alley. He said that he enjoys talking to patrons at those establishments about what they think Casper needs and will try to incorporate that feedback into plans for Roaring 22.

Galloway said he thinks the development will help convert downtown Casper and the Old Yellowstone District into the kind of central districts found in towns like Fort Collins, Colorado, and Denver.

“We get where the scene is going in the larger cities and we hope to emulate that and bring that to Casper,” he said.

With Racca’s, Old Yellowstone Garage, Frosty’s, Karen and Jim’s, a new enterprise taking over the Wonder Bar location, The Lyric civic auditorium and David Street Station already in or coming to the area, Galloway imagines people being drawn downtown for events, dinner and bar hopping.

He remains slightly apprehensive, noting that while he expects the uptick in the number of businesses to be a good thing, there is also the risk that competition will have a negative impact.

“Is it going to work in a way that everyone benefits or where one cannibalizes another?” Galloway said.

But mostly he’s excited about the new project.

“We’re about to embark on something that the town has really never seen,” Galloway said of the cluster of new businesses in the area. “The whole city, as a totality, is taking it on — as a whole beast.”

Wonder Bar to keep name, reopen as bar and restaurant

Downtown Casper’s “World Famous” Wonder Bar will reopen as a bar and restaurant and keep its name, Tony Cercy said Tuesday. Cercy bought the bar with his son Cole.

The establishment closed Oct. 8 for renovations, and the Cercys said they would not reveal their plans until the sale closed.

The liquor license transfers for both Wonder Bar and Poor Boys Steakhouse, which the pair also purchased, were approved at Tuesday’s Casper City Council meeting.

Since the sale of the bar was announced in September, rumors about the fate of the bar have circulated on social media. The Wonder Bar opened in the 1930s and while it has changed ownership and even names over the years, it has remained a mainstay on Center Street.

“Us not being able to give our public plans caused anxiety,” Tony Cercy said. “When we’re able to give the plans, the anxiety will subside and the public will get behind us.”

Cercy said he and Cole would hold a press conference Friday at the Wonder Bar to reveal their full plans. But speaking to the Star-Tribune after Tuesday’s council meeting, Cercy confirmed that the Wonder Bar would reopen as a bar and restaurant and that the name would be preserved.

“We want to keep that heritage,” Cercy said. “We are going to use the name ‘Wonder Bar,’ but we are going to establish our own brand as well.”

Cercy added that he expected to preserve the wooden bar fixture, an item that Wonder Bar employees had circulated a petition asking the Cercys to preserve due to its historical notability.

“It’s undecided, but both my son and I looked at it, and I can say every effort will be made to keep it,” Cercy said.

He said that while a timeline would be revealed at the press conference on Friday, construction was expected to begin immediately.

The Cercys donated $1 million to the David Street Station project last week, and Tony Cercy said he sees the purchase and planned renovation of Wonder Bar as an exciting development for downtown Casper.

“We want, for both us and for the city, a place that Casper wants to gather, wants to come have a drink and get dinner,” Cercy said.

Several community members spoke in favor of the liquor license transfer Tuesday night, including businessman Pat Sweeney, who sold Wonder Bar and Poor Boys to the Cercys.

“The Cercys will be a marvelous fit for downtown,” Sweeney said. “I see them bringing some vibrancy to Center Street.”

Sweeney said some social media comments about the new owners were unfair and that it was important to remember that the Wonder Bar has not operated continuously since the 1930s. When he bought it about 15 years ago Sweeney said it was known as Tommy Knockers and had held several other names before that.

“There have been a lot of attacks… against the new ownership group: ‘How dare you think of changing anything dadadadada,” he said. “It’s got a storied past, but it’s time for a new chapter.”

Matt Galloway, whose family owns Galloway’s Irish Pub and Keg and Cork, also spoke in favor of the Cercys’ acquisition.

“Social media has been unfair to the Cercys,” Galloway said. “I want to offer our fullest support as fellow bar owners.”

“I think what they’re going to do is going to be fantastic,” he added. Galloway and several business partners are planning to open a new bar on the corner of Midwest and Ash Streets near the Wonder Bar location.

Cercy said he did not expect so many people to speak in favor of the liquor license transfer.

“I was very surprised and very happy,” Cercy said. “It feels really good.”

New Wonder Bar owners donate $1 million to downtown plaza construction

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New Wonder Bar owners donate $1 million to downtown plaza construction

The father and son who purchased the Wonder Bar are helping fund a new downtown Casper institution even as they close another.

Tony and Cole Cercy, who bought the Wonder Bar and Poor Boy’s Steakhouse last month, announced a $1 million donation to the David Street Station downtown plaza project Wednesday at a Chamber of Commerce event.

Tony Cercy sold Casper-based Power Service Inc. to a Texas company in the spring. While the sale price for the energy industry equipment company was not disclosed, it was an all-cash transaction.

The plaza is being built on the corner of David Street and Old Yellowstone Highway. The construction site is visible from the parking lot of the “World Famous” Wonder Bar, the watering hole opened in the 1930s and shuttered on Oct. 8 as part of the Cercys’ purchase.

Cole Cercy, who is charge of the newly acquired businesses, has previously said he will not announce his plans until the end of October.

The Cercys did not share information about the future of Wonder Bar or Poor Boy’s Steakhouse with media present at Wednesday’s event. Cole Cercy did not immediately reply to an email requesting comment on the donation.

“I don’t know about any of their other plans but am doing back flips for this major public investment from them,” said Downtown Development Authority CEO Kevin Hawley.

Hawley announced last week that construction on the $1.8 million western half of the plaza will start soon and open to the public by August’s solar eclipse, which is expected to draw thousands of visitors to Casper.

The Cercy donation is earmarked for the second phase of the project and brings the DDA to almost half the funding necessary to complete the eastern section of the plaza. Coupled with a $500,000 donation from Hilltop National Bank, also announced last week, the development organization is $2.1 million shy of the total needed.

Hawley said construction on the eastern half of the plaza will not begin until nearly all of the $3.6 million bid estimate is secured. If that funding is found within the next couple of months, both halves of the plaza could be built at the same time and open in time for the eclipse.

But if that doesn’t happen, Hawley said they will wait until after the eclipse festival to start work on the second half of the plaza.

Follow local government reporter Arno Rosenfeld on Twitter @arnorosenfeld

The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Brian Scott served proudly on the DDA Board and was instrumental in the success of many projects and initiatives downtown, including David Street Station. Please join us by sharing a message or story for Brian and the family at the main entrance to David Street Station at the corner of David and Second Street. Sharpies will be available at the billboard. We ask that you be respectful in the size of your lettering to allow room on the board for all to participate. The board will be given to the family once complete.

Brian, thank you for being a leader in our community and showing us the way. We love you and miss you.

DDA Board & Staff