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Finding old-time holiday cheer in Wyoming’s historic downtowns

Eric Galatas

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(Wyoming News Service) With the annual winter shopping season now in full swing, Wyoming's old town centers are seeing an uptick in visitors drawn to colorful light displays, roasted chestnut and hot chocolate carts, free horse-drawn carriage rides and one-of-a-kind gift options offered by local merchants.

Jessica Seders, executive director of Gillette Main Street, said Wyoming's historic downtowns are a great way to get even the most committed Scrooges into the holiday spirit.

"Gillette's downtown is full of historic buildings that could be found in an old western town," Seders explained. "A lot of people just come down for photo opportunities, and to spend evenings -- especially when it's all lit up -- walking and enjoying the downtown."

Downtown Gillette, which came to life with the arrival of the railroad in the early 20th century, boasts a wide variety of mom and pop shops, restaurants and holiday events. The original General Store building still sits on the town's first block, and Seders pointed to a new attraction, an original homestead wagon on display on the 3rd Street Plaza.

Chad Banks, manager of the Urban Renewal Agency and Main Street Programs for the City of Rock Springs, said visitors can check out the original City Hall, made from sandstone in 1893, which is now a historic museum, or stroll through the town's original and iconic train depot, now a coffee shop and event center full of holiday cheer.

Banks noted one common misperception is locally-owned stores are more expensive than corporate chains.

"That's not always the case, and oftentimes our retailers downtown can even beat prices online," Banks pointed out. "It's always worth giving those folks a chance to earn your business first, before you jump online, or jump to the big box stores."

Gillette is also holding a Christmas window decorating contest. Locals and visitors can scan QR codes to vote for their favorite storefront displays through Dec. 20. Seders added spending time and money in Wyoming's downtowns boosts local economies, and the businesses who sponsor Little League teams and buy ads in high school yearbooks.

"Because when you go to ask for a donation for your kid's ball team, typically it doesn't come from a big box store, it comes from the small businesses," Seders emphasized. "If we want to keep those in business, we've got to look to them not just during the holidays but year round."