SHERIDAN — Connectivity has become a focus of downtown business owners, who instead of simply having storefronts with products inside for passers-by to purchase, must compete with the Internet market in an age where consumers need more than the product itself.

Because consumer mentalities have shifted heavily to online purchasing options, downtown Sheridan businesses are focusing efforts on connectivity and experiences over strictly products. 

Grinnell Plaza is lined with consumer experiences. Verdello offers cooking classes, experimenting with international cuisine under the direction of local chefs. Red Bison Studio obtained a storefront with a purpose of giving back to the community by offering opportunities to learn the craft of pottery-making.

Fly Shop of the Bighorns has also offered classes for fly-tying. Studio Cafe provides homemade breakfast and lunch options and ice cream from a local creamery but encourages patrons to stay a while and complete an art project with family members. 

Cottonwood Kitchen and Home Shop, which primarily focused on product sales before, will now join the business trend on downtown with interactive opportunities at its new location. 

Cottonwood settled into its new home Aug. 22 in the building that formerly housed JCPenney; the clothing store shuttered in 2017. While employees continue to organize merchandise and stock shelves, Erika Scheer and owner Jessica Garrelts are dreaming up ways to connect the community with their business while bringing community members together.

Cottonwood’s new tagline is “Shop. Cook. Connect.” For owner Garrelts, connect resonates most with her as she expands her business to include a community-friendly space.

“That’s really the idea behind the kitchen and getting people together in that kitchen,” Garrelts said. “And just slow down for an hour or two and connect like we’re supposed to but is often hard in this day and age.”

The idea of the teaching kitchen goes beyond simply teaching cooking classes by inviting local artisans from all backgrounds to the counter to share their individual expertise. One of the first classes will feature a group from Landon’s Greenhouse and Nursery to teach a cooking with herbs class. Joining Landon’s will be Bonnie Gregory from Rooted in Wyoming and Rhonda Duncan with Wild Hollow Baking.

Later, Scheer hopes to pair activities with food experiences, like a salsa dancing night paired with creating a variety of salsa dips. Yoga instructors will come in alongside nutritionists and teach a yoga class followed by instruction in creating nutritional meals.

“It’s just a venue for the community to connect with the community who feeds them in every way,” Scheer said.

In addition to classes, the second level of Cottonwood’s new digs may integrate pop-up restaurants for a reservation-only experience. Scheer said pop-up restaurants have become increasingly popular in larger cities.

People rent a space and run it like a restaurant for an evening, which gives food trucks opportunities to continue business during the winter months when many typically shut down.

Bringing in local artisans, chefs, restaurateurs, growers, farmers, ranchers, teachers, nutritionists and food writers gives community members opportunities to engage with those from which they purchase locally-sourced products.

“Almost every time you’re going to be connected with another local business,” Garrelts said.

In turn, the teaching kitchen opens doors for those businesses to interact and familiarize themselves with their consumers on an intimate level. Scheer anticipates the businesses finding larger success because of those interactions.