By: Nick Perkins
It started as a dream. Years ago, before the Casper Art Walk, before the Eclipse Festival, before anything even resembling a “downtown district” existed, Garijo Bierley had a dream of seeing a crowd of people gathering together, eating, drinking and enjoying the presence of one another’s company. In her dream, she saw a family sitting together; the sunlight bathing them as they shared a picnic. She saw a boy sitting next to a girl, contemplating taking her hand in his. She saw an old woman dancing. She saw an old man smiling. She saw her community acting like a community. More than anything, she saw potential.
So, she got to work.
The Yellowstone Garage has been a Casper staple since the 1920’s. It was originally a gas station, then an auto dealership, then a motorcycle dealership and then a machine shop. The Garage went through many transformations before current owner John Huff purchased and restored it. Originally, Huff wanted to use it to showcase his vintage muscle cars. Huff would occasionally use The Yellowstone Garage for various events- wedding receptions, car shows, etc. Bierley was hired to manage those events, and it was during this time that she realized the potential for not only The Yellowstone Garage, but for The Old Yellowstone District as a whole.
“About six years ago, I started taking over the events for John and it’s just kind of transformed into something that’s here all the time now,” Bierley stated. “We had a lot of people telling us that they wished they could do more down here; not just if they were invited to a private event. So, we kind of started brainstorming for a while and then the contest for that liquor license came up and we had a plan almost finished by then anyway, so it was almost perfect timing.”
The liquor license was highly sought after. It was something of a golden ticket to business owners in Casper and when The Yellowstone Garage acquired it, not even Willy Wonka himself could have predicted just how much pure imagination would go into the development.
That imagination started with an event called “Rock the Block.” It was something of a precursor to the Casper Art Walk and it was Bierley’s first foray into bringing the community together.
We started Rock the Block 5 years ago and that’s probably the biggest thing that has drawn everybody down here,” Bierley professed. “It’s been amazing to see the evolution of that. Starting the first year, we had maybe 200-300 people show up on Thursday night, to last year we had 2,000-3,000.”
Bierley continued, stating that “It’s just been absolutely wonderful to get the community involved and get them down in this area to see everything that’s going on down here and all the redevelopment and everything that this Old Yellowstone District has to offer.”
Rock the Block was one of the first events to really offer the community a chance to come together and play. Taking cues from its predecessor, The Nic Fest, Rock the Block featured local musicians, artists, food vendors, performance artists and more- all in an effort to promote community involvement.
“Everything that we built Rock the Block on is helping local people grow their businesses and show off their talents,” Bierley said. “It’s a really big deal to us to keep things as local as possible. If everybody is successful, it makes us more successful and that’s why we create that whole vibe down here. We want to help everybody, we want to work together, and the more successful business are down here, the more traffic we’re going to have and the better everybody is going to be.”
This is a vision, a dream, that is shared by numerous business owners in the downtown area. In addition to The Yellowstone Garage, The District has seen the creation of businesses such as Urban Bottle, Racca’s Pizzeria, The Gaslight Social, David Street Station and more. All of these shops and bars and restaurants share a common dream of seeing Downtown Casper flourish. And that is exactly what it’s doing.
Thanks in large part to The Yellowstone Garage, as well as David Street Station and ART 321, Downtown Casper has seen a huge influx of activity in recent years. The Casper Art Walk, The Nic Fest, Rock the Block, and various events produced by David Street Station have all given the community reasons to visit downtown. Suddenly, downtown has become a destination. For business owners, this isn’t just how downtown should be; it’s how it always should have been.
Bierley saw the potential in The Yellowstone Garage. She saw the potential in Downtown Casper. She thought about what The District could be, and it was a version of the same dream that so many others had. When asked what drives a person to take on all of the work that it takes to make The Yellowstone Garage what it is, Bierley simply replied “craziness. Insanity.”
Some thought that Bierley was crazy, that she had lost her mind when she spoke of her vision of what The District could be. But that vision has come to fruition and it is one that is shared by business owners, city council members and the community as a whole.
So now what?
“I think it would be really amazing to have a feel similar to Ft. Collins, where people would park and just walk around and wander in all the shops and support the local businesses and actually shop local,” Bierley admitted.
This is undoubtedly where The District is headed. The number of bars, restaurants, shops and art galleries in Downtown Casper is astounding. It seems as though every week produces different events. Whether it’s The Art Walk, the 3rd Thursday Bar Crawl, or any number of events and concerts that David Street Station produces, there is always something to do in Downtown Casper.
It all started, seemingly, with The Yellowstone Garage. What was once just a display for classic cars has turned into a bar and restaurant that hosts of variety of events all year long. It offers good, homestyle food and delicious cocktails. It gives artists and musicians a stage in which to showcase their talents. It gives the community a place to gather, to dance, to laugh. It is the culmination of years of hard work, determination, imagination and the dreams of many people. For Garijo Bierley, it is the opportunity to give back to the community that she calls home.
“I’ve always really liked to create memories for people,” she stated. “It’s just really neat to see families come together and make memories and enjoy each other. Everybody’s just usually happy. There are so many struggles in life; when you can see people come together and enjoy all of your hard work, it’s just very rewarding at the end of the day.”
When Garijo Bierley decided she wanted to help turn Downtown Casper into a destination, she didn’t know what exactly that would entail. She didn’t know that new businesses would follow suit. She didn’t think that an entire plaza would be built. She didn’t foresee just how big this entire idea would get. She was just a woman with a dream and the desire to make people happy. That’s exactly what she’s doing. She has ideas for the future, as well. She can see even more potential for The District and its surrounding areas. She believes that Downtown Casper can be even bigger, even brighter, even better and she believes that the community can build something, really build something that other communities can take inspiration from.
A million dream’s is all it’s gonna take.