The sky is half blue-gray, like a light bruise, and half sunbathed and warm. There’s some light foot traffic on Second Street, but overall, downtown Casper is sleepier than normal. A man is using a leaf blower to clean dirt off the sidewalk. He holds the leaf blower one-handed, relaxed, routine and with his free hand waves at another man crossing the street.
The man with the leaf blower is John Trimmer, and he’s clearing the sidewalk outside of Wyo Shirt and Gift, his uncle’s store. They sell Wyoming-themed T-shirts and novelty items, and Trimmer said they tend to be a necessary stop for tourists who frequent the area. Trimmer has worked at the store on and off for two decades.
It is Sunday morning, and while his shop is open, much of downtown is adorned with “closed” signs.
Trimmer says they’ve always been open on Sundays.
“We have a lot of tourists who depend on us,” he said.
When people come through Casper, either on their way to Yellowstone or elsewhere in Wyoming, they want the opportunity to shop local, Trimmer said. Being open on the weekend ensures those potential customers don’t shop elsewhere. Still, Wyo Shirt and Gift does have limited hours on Sundays, 1-4 p.m., rather than its usual 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
And being open seven days a week is not a guarantee they will see more customers. Trimmer said some weekends are busy and some aren’t, and often the busiest days are midweek during the summer.
The uncertainty and the risk of missed customers is the cost of operating your own business, according to many of the locals who do make their livelihoods downtown.
“Probably,” Sharla Norvelle said when asked if she thought she could do more business if her store were open Sundays. “I could be in here every day if I wanted to be, but it’s important for me to have some time to myself.”
Norvelle owns Mustard Seed Home Garden and Gift on 1st Street. The store is fresh and clean and her mother, Marla, and daughter, Morgan, who help run the shop, make sure it stays that way. They sell home goods, gifts, clothing and accessories and offer interior design services too. It’s tiring to coordinate everything that goes into making that work, Norvelle said.
“There’s so much people don’t see when you’re operating a business,” Norvelle said. “I’m working well before (we open) and well after, most of the time.”
She said it’s important that she gives herself a break a few days out of the week, which is why her store is closed Sunday and Monday. But because most other businesses downtown operate the same way, she doesn’t think she’s losing much by not being open those other days.
“I noticed most other businesses around here were closed Sunday and Monday, so it just made sense,” she said.
Matthew Fox, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Wyoming, said that pattern may be a good thing.
“I think it’s helpful for a city to have an identity, to know who they are, and to be thoughtful about how they do that well,” Fox said.
He said he also doesn’t think there’s much of an economic impact of having a downtown corridor be mostly empty on Sundays.
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“People just figure out they should shop on Saturday,” he said.
It actually might make it less worthwhile for local entrepreneurs to open their shops on Sundays if most other stores are closed, he said, because it’s another day of expenses they have to incur on a day most people know not to shop downtown.
Susie Grant, executive director of the nonprofit artist’s collective Art 321, said that’s one of the reasons she doesn’t think it’s a problem to have the doors shut on Sunday.
“Being open on Saturday is really important,” she said, but she doesn’t see the need to be open every day.
“Mentally, you are pulled in a million different directions,” Grant said of operating a storefront. “Having that time to be able to recharge is really important.”
She said she doesn’t think downtown being mostly closed on Sundays affects things too much. She pointed to the growth the area has seen in the last five years as proof.
Part of that growth is thanks to entities like the Downtown Development Authority lobbying businesses to set up shop downtown. DDA Board member Brandon Daigle, a board member for the authority, said drawing those businesses is crucial to their vision for Casper’s future.
“The small business owners are the core of who we try to serve and attract downtown,” he said.
One reason having local retailers set up downtown is so important, Daigle said, is the investment they make in the community.
“There’s a greater sense of ownership,” he said. “It’s easier to get people to care about it if they’re part of the community.”
Daigle pointed to cities like Bend, Oregon, that have grown substantially over the past few years, in part because of their success with raising and supporting local business.
Indeed, Bend’s Chamber of Commerce estimates local entrepreneurs make up more than 65 percent of the city’s economy. Madeline Rice, an event coordinator for Bend’s Chamber of Commerce said the same thing Daigle and Fox did, that once small businesses started finding homes in the city, others followed.
“There’s been huge growth over the last five years,” Rice said. “Before, it was pretty slow.”
Dagile said cities like Bend can be a model for Casper when envisioning the future of the city. A cornerstone of that future, he said, are local entrepreneurs.
And while shopping may be scarce on Sundays, it’s actually a good sign, Fox said: It means something is working.
“It can be both a good sign that the area is set up to support small businesses,” he said, “and it can also be something that builds on itself.”