By: Nick Perkins

You walk through the door and, as your eyes begin to adjust the mid-afternoon darkness, the rest of the Frosty’s ‘regulars’ turn their heads to you and nod in acknowledgment.
At the corner of the bar is Tom, a newspaper journalist who is drinking away the fact the print media is a dying industry.
To his right is Lanny, an electrician, drinking his usual gin ‘n tonic. He smiles at you and shakes your hand.
There’s Connie, a teacher who wouldn’t make it through the school week without her Friday margarita to look forward to.
You scan the rest of the bar and see Tony, the chef at a local restaurant that you frequent. He owes you a meal for some work that you did on the side for him.
As you sit down at the bar, the bartender, without even asking, pours you an Old Fashioned. She knows this is the drink you always order so no questions are asked. You thank her, take that first drink and breathe a sigh of relief. You’re here. You’ve made it through the day, dealt with all of its headaches and now you get to relax with a drink and with your friends. These are your people. This is your bar.

Though Frosty’s Bar & Grill belongs to all of us, it is owned by Nancy Goddard, along with her daughter, granddaughter, and son. Goddard was the previous owner of the Sandbar in the Old Yellowstone District and she turned their fortunes around considerably before focusing her attention on Frosty’s.

Goddard has been in the business for years. It’s a part of her lifeblood and it is something that she has passed onto her daughter, as well her granddaughter. Morgan Morsett is the granddaughter of Nancy and she is also the current General Manager of Frosty’s. Previously, Morsett worked in retail and had gone to school to be a social worker. But the allure of working with her family in a place that she loved was too powerful to pass up.

“I had started [working] at The Sandbar, and I really enjoyed it there,” Morsett stated. “I liked the job. It was just a little, I got really kind of thrown into it. I started bartending and managing less than two months after my 21st birthday, so the bar lifestyle was completely new to me altogether.”

Morsett, knowing her limitations, stepped back from a managerial role for a time and focused on what she believed she was best at; namely, interacting with people. After Nancy bought Frosty’s, she made her granddaughter an offer that she couldn’t refuse.

“The manager left [Frosty’s] and my grandma was like ‘maybe you’ll like the feel of this place. It’s not quite as chaotic. It’s not as big, you’ve got a different clientele. Maybe you’ll fit in a little bit here.”

She did.

Frosty’s was everything one thinks of when they imagine a ‘dive bar.’ It was dark, smoky (up until the cigarette ban) and there was always laughter, always talking, always a good song on the jukebox.

“It’s a very Cheers-like feel here,” Morsett boasted. “Your bartender knows your name when you walk in the door. We know what your drink is. We know what time to expect you and on what days. It’s very family-oriented, I guess, in that our customers are all very close. Everyone’s friends, everyone knows each other and looks out for each other.  It’s kind of like its own little community.”

That’s how Frosty’s has always been, even when it was just a package liquor store sharing office space with the neighboring Bushwell’s Sporting Goods store. There’s a picture of Frosty’s original owner, standing alongside his son-in-law. It’s a subtle reminder of the history of this bar and all of the blood, sweat, and tears that have gone into keeping it open. Keeping it open and staying true to its core has been an interesting venture, especially because of all of the new establishments popping up in The District. But Nancy, Morgan and the rest of the Frosty’s staff have no intentions of closing down anytime soon. They also don’t plan on changing their essence to “fit in” with “modern bars.”

“It’s very original,” Morsett said. “It’s not modern, by any means. It’s got that ‘home’ feel to it. When I say ‘dive bar,’ I don’t mean that in a negative sense. We pride ourselves on being that cozy dive bar.”

The District needs a place like Frosty’s. Every town needs a place like Frosty’s. Other business owners in Downtown Casper knows this as well. In fact, one of the greatest things about The District is the camaraderie and support that every business has for each other.

“We all do really well communicating with fellow managers,” Morsett stated. “If we have a problematic person or somebody who’s just had too much to drink, and I overhear that person say ‘let’s go to The Office, or Gaslight or The Wonder Bar instead, since they’re not letting us continue to drink,’ I’ll shoot [the other bars] a call and let the other bartenders know that this person is already heading their way and, forewarning, they’re already intoxicated. We try to have a good rapport in that sense. The land between Center and Elm Street, as well as the land between 2nd Street and Midwest Avenue, is a sacred place. As more and more focus is given to Downtown Casper, it would be easy for businesses to work against each other in a cutthroat style to make sure their place is the best place. It’s not like that in The District. Each and every business works together and helps each other out. They all participate in events like the Art Walk or Third Thursday. They all support each other, and that’s why The District has been able to thrive.

“That’s always been one of my favorite parts about Casper, in general,” Morsett said. “It’s the sense of community that businesses can work together and not be pitted against each other. We’re all in this together. If any of us start failing, we’re gonna do what we can to help pick each other back up and keep the downtown feel alive and successful and prosperous.”

That attitude is shared by Jim and Karen Kanelos from The Office. It’s shared by Matt Galloway from the Gaslight Social. It’s shared by the owners of C85 Wonder Bar and Marcos Coal-Fired Pizza. Every business in the District has its own niche, its own clients and that’s why Downtown Casper is such a happening place every week. Everybody works together to give Casper the best possible experience. Having a drink at Frosty’s is certainly an experience. They serve food daily and it’s really good. Every week or so, they will feature local bands and musicians who have a song to sing or a story to tell. There are always stories at Frosty’s- you just have to listen for them.

“It’s a great place to come and have a conversation without all the hustle and bustle,” Morsett stated. “You don’t feel like you’re righting a crowd. It’s not overly-loud. You can get a good meal at a reasonable price. My bartenders, my staff, my kitchen staff- they’re all awesome and we all really take care of each other here.”

Morgan said Frosty’s is like a family. She would know, as most of her family works there. But it’s not just her grandmother and mom that she views as family. It’s Tom and Lanny and Tony and Connie. It’s the ‘regulars’ that she sees, without fail, every Friday night or Saturday afternoon. It’s you, too. When you walk into the door of Frosty’s, whether it’s your first or fiftieth time, you will be greeted like you were an old friend or a member of the family. That’s the great thing about this old-timey ‘Dive Bar.’ Every time you walk in, it feels like you’re coming home because, just like the song says, “Everybody knows your name.”

Go Back Home

By: Nick Perkins

If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.”
— Don Draper

It was a dead end. If on a random Saturday night, ten years ago, you found yourself at the cross section of David and Yellowstone Street, you had gone too far. Time to flip around and go back to the East side of town, where the real action was. Not all that long ago, Downtown Casper was a ghost town. It was old, dirty and, according to our mothers, dangerous.

Aside from the movie theaters and a couple of restaurants, there wasn’t much to Downtown Casper. Businesses were built on the East side or the far West side. Places that, ya know, people would actually go to. Downtown was desolate for the longest time, and it was hindering the growth of Casper.

“The money’s on the East side,” most old-timers would say. That’s where the renowned McMurry family lived and built businesses. It’s where the best car dealerships were located. It’s where the best schools and restaurants were frequented. “Downtown,” for all intents and purposes, simply didn’t exist. Even if it did, nobody would want to claim it, anyway.

That is until the Downtown Development Authority decided to change that. One man, in particular, took it upon himself to ‘change the narrative.’ His name is Kevin Hawley and he is the Executive Director of the DDA. For years, Hawley had seen the potential for downtown, along with a few other notable names like John Huff, Karen and Jim Kanelos and more. They believed in the potential of Downtown Casper. The tricky part was convincing the public to do the same.

“People, for the longest time, said our downtown sucks,” remarked Hawley. “[They would say] ‘there’s nothing to do downtown; that’s for my grandma.’”

Well turns out, grandma was a lot more hip than you thought because she was right. Downtown was cool and it did have potential. The conversation just needed to be changed.

Enter the DDA and, specifically, the creation of the David Street Station.

“5 years ago, we started the conversation,” Hawley said. “We asked ourselves, ‘what can we do to dramatically change where we’re going as a downtown?’”

Dramatically was the key point. If downtown was going to change, it needed to be more than just an aesthetic facelift. It needed to be more than potholes being filled, sidewalks being repaired and flashy signs saying how great Downtown Casper was. The DDA knew they needed to change the conversation in a big way and in a way that people would actually care about.

Coincidentally, rumors were starting to abound that Casper was about to get hit with a wave of tourists because of an eclipse that was going to take place in the summer of 2017. Wyoming’s Best Kept Secret was about to be released to the public, and the Downtown Development Authority wanted to make an impact.

That’s exactly what they did with the creation of the David Street Station- a huge, outdoor multi-functional events center that could present concerts, movies, parties, festivals and more. The David Street Station, it was hoped, would be the beacon that would guide other businesses and patron’s downtown.

It worked.

The road to get there wasn’t an easy one, but it also wasn’t as hard as one would expect. Like a jigsaw puzzle being put together by a cocaine addict, once the idea was there, the pieces started falling into place relatively quickly.

The first step, obviously, was getting funding. For a massive project like what The Station was projected to be, the DDA needed funding from the city, the state, public and private investment. And that was just to get the thing built and functional.

They started with the state which, ironically, was in a building built on part of the property that the David Street Station would be on.

Hawley laughed at the memory of that initial meeting.

“It was really tough to go to the State of Wyoming and say ‘Not only do we want to buy your property and kick you out, but we also want you to pay for part of it.’”

Surprisingly, the state went for it. So did the city.

Get ready, because we’re about to talk numbers.

“The city pledged $3 million from un-allocated One Cent taxes,” Hawley stated. “They had $25 million kind of leftover that they didn’t have projects allocated [for], so they said ‘We’ll contribute $3 million of that as the public investment.

Then, we marched down to the state and raised $1 million in state grants. Then, we balanced that with, now, over $6 million in private investment in the public project. That spurred over $45 million in private investment in property acquisition and rehabilitation within 3 blocks, in 18 months.”

Casper was ready for something different, and they put their money where their mouth was. The city, state, public and private investors all contributed upwards of tens of millions of dollars because they all agreed with Hawley’s original vision- that Downtown Casper had a hell of a lot of potential.

Various people within the city saw what Downtown Casper could be, but the world saw what Casper was capable of on August 21, 2017. That was the day of the Eclipse.

Thousands of people flocked to Casper, as it was alleged to be one of the prime viewing locations in the country. Casper, as it’s wont to do, rose to the occasion.

Various businesses rolled out the red carpet for tourists and locals alike. Hotels were booked solid. Restaurants were making money hand over fist. New establishments, like the Gaslight Social, timed their grand openings just in time for the Eclipse. It was The David Street Station, however, that was the real star of the show…besides, ya know, the sun.

“Here we are, open for the Eclipse,” Hawley beamed. “[We had] really good fanfare for that. Then, that came and went and we had a few events after that but were more focused on opening the other half [of the Station]. We did that on June 1st and we’ve been rockin’ and rollin’ since. I think everybody loved the splash pad and we were really excited that [the public] got to see the full version when we opened the skating rink, with the tree as well.”

In November of 2018, The David Street Station installed an ice skating rink to coincide with their (now) Annual Tree Lighting Festival. Hundreds of Casper citizens gathered downtown to usher in yet another era for the David Street Station, The District and Downtown Casper as a whole.

Hawley was there of course, and as he was taking in the truly magical scene, one of his employees walked up to him, put an arm around his shoulder and asked if he could have ever imagined it would be like this.

“I looked at him and was like, ‘Yeah. Yeah I did,’” Hawley remembered.

Hawley always knew what Downtown Casper was capable of. Another vital part of The David Street Station, who also saw its potential, was Jackie Landess. Landess is the Operations Manager for the David Street Station and, as a recent college graduate, she represents The District’s youth perspective. After she graduated, Landess was trying to decide her next step. As it turned out, that next step led her right to The District.

“I saw the vision and was ready to move home,” she said.

Hawley joked that Landess “started at the bottom and worked her way up to the glamorous world of cleaning bathrooms and changing garbages.”

While those less-than-glamorous chores are, indeed, part of the gig, Landess is responsible for a lot more. She is the one that develops and implements many of the events and activities that take place at the David Street Station.

She is responsible for events like the aforementioned tree lighting ceremony, the Cinema and Skate events for children, the newly-developed Broomball League, concerts, rally’s and more.

Landess is truly a Jack(ie)-of-all-trades and a master of them all.

Never was this more evident than with the recent “Noon Year’s Day Mac & Cheese Festival.” This was the 2nd year in a row David Street Station hosted a family-oriented New Year’s Celebration and, even with a typical Wyoming Blizzard, they had over 1800 people show up. Fortunately, the DDA had The Lyric as a backup in case of weather. Well, weather happened so the festival was moved. Even with its change in location, however, that event just goes to show how invested people are in their community and how most of us are eager to connect with each other.

The David Street Station allows for that to happen. But it’s not the only business that believes in Downtown Casper.

“This wasn’t the savior of downtown,” Hawley said of The Station. “This was one component to a successful and thriving downtown.”

The people behind David Street Station couldn’t have done it on their own, by themselves. If they didn’t have the support of other businesses and, most importantly, the community, David Street Station simply wouldn’t exist.

“Being that we’re privately funded, not from the city, we’re only as strong as the community that supports us,” Hawley stated.

He continued, stating that one of the biggest struggles of operating The Station is that “although there was a public contribution, to this public project from the city and from the taxpayers through One-Cent, this still isn’t operated by the city. We’re not a line item on their budget. Everything we do is privately funded for the operations and maintenance. That’s where it’s been a struggle, especially this summer when it was just Jackie and I. It was overwhelmingly difficult to keep up with everything but we did whatever it took.”

They did whatever it took, and it shows. The David Street Station is a product of the hearts, minds, dreams and, yes, pocketbooks of numerous people. It is truly a labor of love, but it’s something that all of Casper gets to love.

“There’s a lot of negativity in the world,” Hawley said. “I think David Street Station is everything that’s good about Casper. Coming down there, meeting people, having fun, smiling, meeting new friends, seeing old friends.”

“Casper, this is yours,” he continued. “Take care of it. Take pride in it.”

The David Street Station was not the product of just one person. It wasn’t the product of two or three people. The reason David Street Station was built and the reason that it functions is that the community knew that Casper had the potential to be more than “just another town in Wyoming.” The community knew it had the chance to be something special; especially our downtown.

“We just decided to start telling people that downtown is cool! It started slowly; you’re not going to change it overnight, but our downtown is cool. Here’s what’s going on: we’ve got Third Thursday, we’ve got the Art Walk, we’ve got Rock the Block, we’ve got Frontier Brewing, we’ve got the Balloon Fest. You just change the narrative, change the story.”

That’s exactly what they did and that story began in The District. We think we’ll call it “Where Casper Comes Together.”

Go Back Home

By: Nick Perkins

When Lauren Podjun was a little girl, her mother asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up.

“I wanna be a rock star,” she said.

It’s taken her 19 years, but Podjun is closer than ever to reaching her dream. As a college student with a Major in Vocal Performance, she spends the majority of her day surrounded by other musicians and, most importantly, music. It’s always been this way for Podjun, even as a child. After moving to Wyoming in 2008, her parents put enrolled her in piano lessons. While the lessons were monotonous at first, they developed a very strong foundation for Podjun in regards to music.

“I think when you’re a kid, you hate practicing,” Podjun said. “No kid likes to practice, but I started getting into ensembles at school and I loved it. It was the most amazing experience. The most amazing experiences I’ve had in school have been with my music groups.”

“Practicing is always a chore, but it’s a chore I’d rather do than math homework,” she continued.

In truth, Podjun would rather do anything than math homework. Or any schoolwork, for that matter. She isn’t lazy- far from it, actually. But Lauren is one of the 43.5 million Americans living with dyslexia.

“Dyslexia- that’s where the problems with school came from,” Podjun shared. “It’s always been there. It’s just wanting to be so much better than I am; the perfectionist thing. Having that learning disability has really been rough on me because I just wanted to be the best [as a kid]. I wanted to be able to read as fast as the other kids. I didn’t want to be in the ‘special classes.’ I didn’t want to fall behind.”

School is a hard experience for any kid, but factoring in the difficulties that come with dyslexia only added to the stress.

Luckily, there was always music.

“Music really kept me in school, and it was so lovely to have such an amazing teacher help me and give me a place to be,” Podjun said. “Every kid needs that. Every kid needs a place to feel at home and I really felt at home in a band room.”

It was the piano lessons that first instilled a love of music for Lauren, but it was when she was 11 years old that she realized music was her future.

“When I got into my first ensemble in 5th grade, Ms. Hanson changed my life forever,” she said.

School could have been a miserable experience for Lauren but she found something that gave her peace.

“Music, for me, was everything,” she said. “I was not good at school. I struggled but I found a lot of refuge in music, so I put my whole heart into it. Everything I had went into music, because music is where I really felt like I could really give.”

Music really was a refuge for Podjun but, as she grew older, it became something so much more. It became her blanket. It became the window to her soul. Music, for all intents and purposes, became her life. While she loved performing in ensembles, and one day dreams of joining a band to collaborate with others, Podjun currently works as a solo act. She has performed all across the District and beyond, playing gigs at Metro Coffee Co., Crescent Moon Coffee Stop, the David Street Station, Racca’s Pizzeria and more.

Podjun is but one of the myriad of talented individuals that The District has to offer. It is her instrument of choice, however, that really makes her stand out.

“I played piano and wrote a lot of my music on the piano at first, but I realized I couldn’t take a piano everywhere I went, so I would strum on my viola, which eventually kind of ruined the viola,” she remembered. “I looked around for stringed instruments that I could take with me and I didn’t want to play guitar. My hands are too small. I couldn’t get my hand around the neck of the instrument. I tried the ukulele and I was like, ‘Oh wow! I like this a lot.’”

And so the ukulele became her instrument of choice. It has come with her to a wide-array of gigs around Casper and it has really differentiated her from all of the other wonderful local musicians. Another thing that makes Podjun stand out from the pack is her style of writing. Not content to just play cover songs, Podjun loves writing and performing her own music. She loves telling stories.

“My songs are very story-based,” she admitted. “I love stories so, in a lot of my songs, you’ll hear different perspectives from different people.”

She continued, saying that she “want[s] [the audience] to be able to hear what I’m saying, so words are very important to me. If they can visualize what I’m singing, then that’d be great. If they can just go home and think ‘Wow! That’s a really awesome adventure that person went on. I can see it and I can see myself doing it.’”

Podjun, at a very young age, saw herself as a performer. She followed the path that had been written for her and found something inside of herself that not everybody finds. She found passion. She found music. She found love, not only for music but, most importantly, for herself.

“Dyslexia has shown me that it’s okay to do things a little different,” she stated. “It’s okay to ask for help. I still struggle with asking for help; I always have. But with music and the dyslexia, sometimes I’ll get upset because music is the same thing as reading and it’s the same thing as math. I struggle. I get things wrong. I’ll play something backwards, I’ll mess up my own words. That’s the hardest thing; when you write your own phrase and then you mess it up. But I keep going.”

She keeps going. She will continue to keep going, playing as many gigs inside and outside of The District as she can. She will continue to write songs and she will continue to tell stories. She’ll continue to share her story, as well, because she wants younger kids to know that they are not defined by their disability. Podjun is passionate about her music, but she is even more passionate about instilling love, for music and for themselves, to children. That passion led to a teaching job with Vibes Performing Arts, in Casper. Suddenly, the girl that hated school is now a teacher herself, and she loves it.

“Working at Vibes is a really interesting experience and it’s one of the best experiences, I think, that will teach me about music and the impact that it has on others,” she shared. “Music had such a strong impact on me, it’s important for me to want to pass that on. I always said I never wanted to be a teacher, but I just kept coming back to it. I really love it. The people there are amazing and so talented and so driven. They work so hard and I feel really lucky to be there.”

Maybe luck has played a hand in Lauren Podjun’s life. But, as Billy Zane once said, a real man (or woman) makes his (or her!) own luck. That’s what Lauren did. She took a dream and turned it into a reality. She took a disability and turned it into a teaching tool.

More than anything, she took a love for music and she turned it into a story.

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