Rising from the ashes in Dubois, after a void of more than two years, is a one-story building that stretches across a city block, built of cedar to fit in with the town’s western look. Mayor Twila Blakeman says the new building is a welcome replacement for the black hole left by the fire that destroyed several downtown businesses, including a landmark – Stewart’s Trapline Gallery.
“That was heartbreaking, especially for little Kit Stewart and was a very beautiful little place full of artifacts and many, many paintings and artwork. Kit, of course, she’s older and she just hasn’t had the energy to start up again.”
She could, says the mayor, because “miraculously” the jewelry survived.
“The fire came through the ceiling of the studio and it was so cold that when they put the water on, it encased the showcases in ice. And so she didn’t lose a whole lot of her jewelry… most of the turquoise jewelry she was able to get back.”
Blakeman says other stores destroyed by the fire, like The Mart, which featured several vendors, will also be missed. But at this point, she’s looking to the future and the promise the new spaces will bring.
“I can’t help but think they’re just going to be a wonderful asset to our community.”
Property owner Jeff Sussman says there are now three new spaces which can be subdivided to accommodate more businesses. Two, he says, are already rented to a pharmacy and photo gallery and he’s negotiating for a western clothing store. The New York real estate developer says he’s been invested in Dubois for 30 years, now, since he purchased the Diamond D Ranch there.
“It didn’t occur to us not to rebuild it. Financially, it was not the brightest thing to do, but… I will create as good a financial situation that is possible to hopefully get them to own the properties.”
He found Dubois, and the ranch when he heard an inner calling to the West.
“We took one of those great leaps of faith because the fella' who told us about it (the ranch) said it’s in a great little town and getting there is a great experience. You fly into Riverton or you fly into Jackson and the drive is beautiful, which it certainly is, from Jackson, it’s spectacular. And it’s been a great thing for us.”
Now, he hopes the rebuild will be a great investment for others and believes a mercantile or artist’s mart might be a good fit.
“This is a small town, (about 1,000 people) but it’s got a great number of crafts people… well, I think someone could curate some of those into a mart. I’d love to see somebody who knew how to do that.”
Considering the little town in the Wind River Mountains doubles in size with vacationers over the summer months, Sussman hopes other entrepreneurs will see the business potential and take a leap of faith like he did those many years ago. Businesses are set to open in the new building on July 1.