STORY — For a business to survive in an isolated area like Story, its owners need to be driven.
That’s a lesson Andrea and Dick Phillips learned quickly after purchasing the longstanding Wagon Box Inn and relocating from Casper in 2004.
That lack of drive-by and foot traffic teamed with a small population and the relatively low-profile nature of the community makes the already challenging nature of operating a business even harder in Story.
And while there’s certainly no trick when it comes to keeping a business alive, many locals say it takes a willingness to work harder than they ever thought was possible.
Photo by Paolo Cisneros
Story Businesses: Wagon Box Inn owner Andrea Phillips, left, poses with her daughter Kodi Peterson last week. Lacking the foot traffic and visibility afforded to Sheridan businesses, Phillips said business owners in Story are forced to work even harder to stay viable.
In Phillips’ case, that means making the business the foremost component of her day-to-day life.
“I just make sure it works,” she said.
Whereas businesses lucky enough to operate in heavily trafficked areas can sometimes afford to be less careful with their expenditures, for example, successful Story establishments have no such luxury.
At the Wagon Box, Phillips keeps her staffing to a minimum. She ensures her bartenders carefully measure out how much liquor they’re adding to drinks. And whenever there’s a task she’s capable of completing herself, she does.
“We watch expenses like a hawk,” she said. “It’s a constant job.”
With the help of her husband and daughter, Phillips has managed to beat the odds and infuse new life into the roughly 105-year-old Story institution.
Thanks to a great deal of perseverance and commitment, the business has survived the worst of the recession and is even preparing to open a full service spa sometime in the next few months.
For her part, Phillips credits her success to her family’s willingness to take on the unique challenges posed by the business’s location.
“We, as owners, work the business,” she said. “Nobody else is going to care like (we) care.”
Still, it’s a constant uphill battle for everyone who hopes to make their living in Story.
The community has seen several high-profile businesses close in recent months, including a well-known restaurant and the area’s only gas station.
Story Store at the Old Firehall owner Tisha Coffman said she relies entirely on word of mouth to keep people coming through her door. Despite the added delivery costs associated with her isolated location, she’s found the Story community ready and willing to embrace its local establishments.
While the nearly 2-year-old business has managed to survive the hurdles that often accompany an opening, some Story residents still falsely believe think that shopping for groceries necessarily means driving to Sheridan.
“We still have people that are surprised to find us for the first time,” she said.
Without the benefits afforded to incorporated towns and cities, Story relies heavily on involvement from citizens.
In that spirit, the recently founded Story Community Fund works to support local institutions such as the Story Volunteer Fire Department in the hopes that it will lead to the development of a stronger, more unified citizenry.
Story Community Fund President and co-owner of Story Pines Inn Patrick Morgan said that level of cooperation is especially important given Story’s unincorporated status.
“It’s just a matter of getting the word out,” he said.
Morgan added that despite the challenges facing businesses in Story, several have managed to thrive in recent years by focusing on producing quality products and services while expanding their reach into the online realm.
At the Wagonbox Inn, Andrea and Dick Phillips’ daughter Kodi Peterson said that while often difficult, working in Story has helped her entire family become more adaptable and resilient.
“You have to go with the flow or you’re not going to make it,” she said.