By: Nick Perkins

I took one last walk.

For the past 3 years, I’ve lived in an apartment building in Downtown Casper. It had been a dream of mine since I was a little kid to live in that building, as it reminded me of a building one would see in New York City. It was old, architecturally sound and very, very tall. It had character and probably a thousand stories to tell. Even better, it was upstairs from a local deli (Sandwich Bar represent!). I always wanted to live in that building and, for a handful of years, I did just that. The best part of the building was that it was right in the middle of downtown, the heart of The District.

For years, Casper’s downtown area was seen as ‘dumpy.’ It was somewhere that your parents warned you not to find yourselves in after dark. Though it had a few bars, a movie theater and an old-timey Italian restaurant, downtown was still viewed to be ‘the wrong side of the tracks.’

That all changed a few years ago. A select group of innovators saw the potential in Downtown Casper, and they wanted to turn it into a destination spot for tourists and locals alike. Places like Yellowstone Garage and The Office Bar & Grill reinvented themselves. They started featuring more local bands, musicians and artists. ART 321 began hosting ‘Art Walks,’ that brought attention to all of the unique boutiques that lined the downtown streets. New establishments, like the David Street Station and The Gaslight Social were created and they very quickly became highlights of the downtown district.

Undoubtedly, the Eclipse Festival in 2017 played an enormous part in the popularity of downtown. People from all across the world gathered on our humble town for what was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But the businesses in The District didn’t want downtown to be a hot spot just once. They wanted it to be a destination for weeks, months, years to come.

So, they gathered together and got to work.

That work has resulted in a flourishing district that features multiple events, every night and year-round. It’s home to coffee shops and restaurants and bars and art galleries and outdoor concert venues and so much more. Downtown Casper has grown so much in such a short amount of time and it’s been a true highlight of my life to see the town I grew up in turn into such a safe place for culture, diversity, artists and the arts.

I used to spend hours upon hours walking around The District. Whether there was an event going on or not, I would meander past all of the businesses, looking in windows and sometimes going inside for a cup of coffee. It was not just the businesses I loved about Casper District- it was the people who made up those businesses. And really, that’s the most important aspect of Downtown Casper- the people. It was the people who made this all possible and it is the people who will continue to make it possible one last time.

As I was packing up my apartment for a new adventure, I decided to take a break from wrapping boxes and trying to find a place for everything. I needed the break, too. Moving is stressful. So, I did what I always used to do when I was feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

I took one last walk.

 

My walk first leads me to David Street. The David Street Station, constructed in conjunction with the Eclipse Festival, became a beacon in The District. It offers movie nights, concerts, and a host of other events year-round. During the Christmas season, the David Street Station brings in a huge Christmas tree and places right in the center, surrounded by an ice-skating rink.

For a long time, one of my favorite things to do at night was to look out the window at its glistening lights. Sometimes, late at night, I would even walk around inside, taking in the beauty of the architecture and the spirit of what the building signified. It really is a beacon- a lighthouse of The District, guiding all of us to its glow.

I would walk there again on this night, letting the silence overwhelm me in its dichotomy from even just a few hours earlier. Then, there was music and laughter and fellowship, and the sounds echoed throughout downtown. But now? Now it’s just me and the silence.

Walking a little further, I find myself in front of the Yellowstone Garage. This was truly the one that started it all. Way before art walks and summer movie nights and concerts, there was John Huff and his Yellowstone Garage, rocking the block every Thursday night and showing Casper just how boisterous the downtown area could be. It was Huff who first saw the potential of Downtown Casper and it was he who would make Thursdays the new Fridays with Rock the Block. The rest of downtown would follow shortly thereafter.

I circle back around to Ash Street and saunter over to The Gaslight Social. This was, for a while, the ‘new kid in town,’ but it didn’t take long for it to ingratiate itself to the community and stand out amongst its peers. Yes, The Gaslight is a bar. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a bar, a restaurant, an arcade and more. It hosts concerts, fundraisers, parties and a host of other events and get-togethers.

I have a love/hate relationship with The Gaslight. On one hand, it’s such an incredible venue full of amazing bartenders and servers. It’s owned by a great family who have poured a lot of money into the community. And it has Pac-Man. On the other hand, I made the mistake of going to the place on my 30th birthday, which happened to be a night that my ex-girlfriend was working there. She ended up serving me nachos and then making out with some dude right behind me, thus ruining the milestone day.

It hurt then, but I smile now, in spite of myself. That’s just pretty much how my life goes.

I roll my eyes and move on, coming to Urban Bottle. This ‘Liquor Store Love Story’ has all the makings of a classic tale. It’s got history, trials, tribulations, victories and defeats. Like most businesses in The District, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to UB. What once started out as a mere liquor store turned into a tasting room, a concert hall and a place to write your own love story. Urban Bottle has catered numerous events in The District and beyond, but it’s the store itself that has firmly cemented itself as a true highlight of The District.

Speaking of highlights of The District, we’re not even sure The District would exist if it weren’t for The Art Walk, put on by ART 321 and the Casper Artist’s Guild. ART 321 is a gallery of ideas, featuring paintings, photographs, sculptures and more. It is a stage in which local artists can showcase their work, sell their work and immortalize themselves in the annals of the Casper art scene. The Art Walk, especially, is an opportunity for local businesses and individuals to come together and offer their talents to the community. Every Thursday in the summer, there would be music, games, food trucks, and a slew of other activities that welcomed the community to gather together in fellowship. The Art Walk is what made The District a destination, and it will only continue to grow in the coming years.

As I continued my own art walk, I stopped for a moment at The Office Bar & Grill. Out of every other business downtown, it was The Office that was most supportive of The Casper District and what we’re trying to do. Jim and Karen Kanelos are the anchors of The District and they are two of the sweetest, kindest, most giving people I have ever met. That aside, their bar and grill is a great venue that serves almost any purpose. For those who like to have fun but get overwhelmed when surrounded by hoards of people, The Office is a perfect venue to wet your whistle and feed your soul. With events like Singo Bingo, karaoke every weekend and the NFL Sunday Package, there is no better place to spend some time than The Office.

I stop walking for a moment and take one last glance at the place. I went to Karen and Jim’s since it had actually been called ‘Karen & Jim’s.’ I was there when it was adorned with movie memorabilia and that’s what first made me fall in love with the place. Many drunken nights were spent singing my heart out during karaoke. I’m pretty I started and ended relationships in the place. I definitely threw up a time or two. During that time, I got to see the love that Karen and Jim had- for each other and for their customers.

I actually get a bit misty-eyed thinking about those times. I never thought that Karen and Jim would become friends of mine, but I am so glad they did. Yeah, The Office is probably my favorite joint in The District. It may be called The Office, but if there’s any place in The District that feels like home, it’s Karen and Jim’s.

 

I start walking again and glance at all of the other incredible businesses. There’s The Science Zone, The Sand Trap, Frosted Topps and more. Frosty’s Bar & Grill is, for my money, the best self-professed ‘dive bar’ in town. Scarlow’s Gallery is, quite possibly, the most gorgeous building in The District and it features some of the coolest, most diverse art you will ever see. Plus, it serves delicious coffee.

Speaking of coffee,  Metro Coffee Co. is the coolest coffee shop in town and that is a hill I have no problem dying on. Not only is the venue itself awesome (as are the baristas), it’s also an amazing stage for Casper’s young people. Metro puts on weekly shows for Casper’s budding musicians, poets, comics and more. It is a safe place for artists to experiment and it’s one of the first (only) places I ever tried to be a musician as well. Metro was here long before Downtown Casper became ‘cool,’ and, back then, it added some much-needed culture to an otherwise bland location.

The District is full of culture now. It’s full of music and laughter and friendship and food. It’s full of art. Mostly, it’s full of people now. And it’s those people who I am going to miss most as I move out of my apartment, eager to walk down other roads, find other businesses and support other local arts and artists.

I decide to start walking back, now. I don’t know where my path will take me or where I’ll end up walking. But wherever I go, and with whatever I do, I will always keep a piece of Downtown Casper in my heart. The District is home, that’s all.

And home is where the art is.

 

For a full list of the businesses of The District, visit our Facebook Page.

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By: Nick Perkins

“We’re in the endgame now.” When Doctor Strange uttered that line to Tony Stark towards the end of Avengers: Infinity War, audiences had no idea what they would be in for with the following film. While Infinity War ended on a very somber note, it was the follow up, Avengers: Endgame that would really leave a lasting impression.

Picking up after the events of Infinity War, we find our heroes broken, beaten and divided. Tony Stark and Nebula are still stuck in space and they’re running low on food and oxygen. Cap is leading a support group in the veins of an AA or NA meeting. Black Widow seems to have taken on the role as the ‘leader’ of the remaining Avengers, which consist of War Machine, Rocket Raccoon, Captain Marvel and Okoye. Hawkeye has turned into (even more of) a vigilante and Ant-Man, well, Ant-Man has been stuck in the Quantum Realm.

All of this is to say, our Avengers aren’t doing much avenging. Without spoiling too much (but, honestly, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, who even are you?) it takes a while for the band to get back together but, when they finally do, it’s not long before they go face-to-face with  Thanos yet again. The results differ from those of Infinity War and Thor heeds the advice that was offered to him in the previous movie, but the biggest priority now that they’re back together is to avenge the fallen.

They don’t just want to avenge them, however- they want to bring them all back. And thus begins the major story of the movie.

Avengers: Endgame is a lot of things. It’s big, for one. This film features characters we know and love, characters we’ve quite literally grown up watching. Everyone gets a small moment to shine and there are enough of those moments to make it a memorable film just by themselves.

But the real victory here is not the action or the set pieces or the remarkable visuals. It isn’t the fighting or the flying or the “super heroism.” The biggest victory of this film is the amount of heart it’s able to convey. Endgame, for many, is more than just a movie. It’s certainly more than just a “summer blockbuster.” Endgame, as its name implies, is not the beginning of the end of the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe- it’s the end of the beginning.

For the past 10 years, audiences have looked on as reluctant heroes find the strength, courage and character needed to stand up in the face of evil and avenge those who couldn’t fight for themselves. Whether it was a war monger, a god of mischief or a room full of Nazis, these heroes stood up to evil and didn’t flinch. They survived an age of Ultron and their own Civil War. Some members of the team were lost along the way but, through it all, they became heroes. They became legends.

Endgame, at just under a 3 hour runtime, features no wasted moments. Every shot matters, every line hits. Every moment resonates. This is a movie that needs to be seen a few times, and there is no better way to do that than by watching it at the Fox Movie theater, in Downtown Casper. Endgame is about to be released digitally and on home video and it’s definitely one to pick up ASAP. But this film needs to be seen on a big screen in order to fully felt. And that’s what this movie does. It makes you feel. And isn’t that the reason we go to the movies?

Avengers: Endgame is far from the end of the MCU. But for some of our heroes it is, indeed, the end of the line. But we were with them ‘til the end of the line and their endings are about as poetic as it gets. Some of our heroes move on, others die but all of them make their exits count. They did this because, like Tony Stark said way back when, “if we can’t save the world, you can be damn sure we’ll avenge it.”

They did.

 

Avengers: Endgame is now playing at the Fox Movie Palace in Downtown Casper. For showtimes and more, visit the Wyo Movie Facebook Page.

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By: Nick Perkins

She kept reiterating ‘customer service.’ Throughout our conversation, those were the two words we kept coming back to. It didn’t come across like a rehearsed, corporate PR line, either. Customer service is sincerely what Jennifer Trupp, General Manager of Urban Bottle Wine & Spirits, believes is the foundation of what she is trying to build.

It is, in fact, the foundation of what the entirety of Downtown Casper is trying to build, in all honesty. Every decision that is made, every brick that is laid, is done so with the desire to build a better downtown for the people of Casper.

Customer Service is the backbone of The District and, if one wants their business to be truly successful, they need to adhere to that idea as quickly as possible.

Luckily, while Trupp has only been the GM of Urban Bottle for a short time, it is already a mission statement that has been ingrained in her heart and on her mind.

Urban Bottle first opened its doors in December of 2016. In the short 3 years it has been open, Urban Bottle has proven itself to be a fixture of The District. Owners John and Lauren Griffith, along with their silent partners envisioned Urban Bottle as more than just another place to buy booze. Casper already has enough of those. What the owners of UB wanted was something that would remembered. They wanted their store to be an event, an experience. They wanted Urban Bottle to be, in their words, a “liquor store love story.”

Fast forward 3 years and that’s exactly what it has become. Urban Bottle has grown from a boutique liquor store into one of the biggest, most consistent highlights of The District and at the forefront (or storefront, as it were) of it all is Jennifer Trupp.

“I think the vision of Urban Bottle really is to see downtown thrive and to be another focal point of The District,” Trupp said. “I want it to be a place where people can just stop in, grab a bottle of wine, share it together and then be on their way to check out other places downtown.”

As a Wyoming-native with a background in marketing and sales, Trupp knows that the most important aspect of any business is, without question, customer service. The owners of Urban Bottle share that idea, and that is one of the reasons that they hired Trupp as their proverbial “face of the business.”

“The customer service side of this business was very intriguing to me,” she stated. “I think that there’s a need for that in this environment. If you look at what Urban Bottle has to offer, especially in the community and in the downtown area, the customer service side of what we have back here is so unknown.”

While Urban Bottle was originally just a liquor store that occasionally hosted wine-tastings and jazz trios, it has since grown into an operation that features tastings, concerts, catering opportunities, partnerships with other local businesses and more. On a weekly basis, customers are invited to partake in wine tastings, as well as beer and cocktail tastings. Urban Bottle has a fully-functional bar, keg and tap and Trupp encourages passersby to stop in for a drink and actually stay for a while.

“If you ask people, ‘hey, what do you know about Urban Bottle?’ they don’t realize that you can open up a bottle of wine, or that there are kegs back here, or wine on tap, cocktails on tap and more,” Trupp boasted.

Any establishment that features wine on tap is sure to be a head-turner, and that’s exactly what Urban Bottle has become. But it isn’t just their product that sets Urban Bottle apart. It is also, stick with us here, their customer service.

“When people come in, we want to make it a full experience,” Trupp reiterated. “We don’t want people to just buy their beer and leave. So we ask ourselves, ‘how do we become more knowledgeable?’ That’s why we hold wine tastings. Because the more knowledgeable we are- even not just me as the General Manager, but the employees too- the more knowledgeable we are, the better we can help our customers.”

It’s not just the relationships with customers that Trupp and her team want to continue to develop, either. They also understand how pivotal it is to build relationships with other businesses in The District.

“We’re always partnering with everyone around us,” she said. “It’s not a competition with everybody else; it’s a partnership. And that’s what makes a great downtown.”

In just 3 short years, Urban Bottle has partnered with businesses like ART 321, Racca’s Pizzeria, Grant Street Grocery, Backwards Distilling Company and more. Trupp knows that the more local businesses partner and work together, the better it is for all parties involved, especially the customers.

Almost every business owner in Downtown Casper has stated that they want The District to become a destination for tourists and locals alike. They’ve said that they want Casper to be viewed as on-par with bigger cities in neighboring Fort Collins or South Dakota. Trupp is no different.

“I would like to see [downtown] as another form of Fort Collins,” she said. “I would like to see the city pass the idea of having a veranda out here so that people would be able to have a glass of wine outside on the sidewalk. That’s how it should be. I would like to see downtown full of people just walking around, shopping and enjoying their surroundings. That’s how it should be.”

That is how it should be. And it’s what it could be, as well. So many people in Downtown Casper are passionate about their business, about their city and about their people. Urban Bottle is but one of the many stories that are being written in The District. But this one is a different kind of story. It’s a love story, actually. And it’s that love for their city, their downtown and, most importantly, their customers that will determine Urban Bottle’s success moving forward. Luckily, for the owners, for the customers and for the store itself, it seems to be in good hands.

 

Urban Bottle is located at 410 S. Ash Street in Casper, WY 82601. They are open Monday-Saturday, 10am-10pm and Sunday, 11am-4pm. For more information, visit their website, check out their Facebook Page or give them a call at 307-333-6424.

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By: Nick Perkins

It was the 4th quarter of the big game. Roosevelt High School was battling Ballard High on the gridiron and, for one young man we’ll call Brad, it was the most important game of his life. He was the quarterback for Roosevelt and he intended to put on the best game his town had ever seen. Most importantly, he wanted to impress the young girl who was sitting in the stands. She was the love of his life and he wanted nothing more than to impress her.

Knowing she would be cheering him on, Brad called the first play. He was too busy, too focused to glance towards the bleachers, but he knew she would be there, smiling and laughing and proudly claiming that the quarterback was her boyfriend.

As the game progressed, Brad gave it everything he had. With only 10 seconds left in the game, Roosevelt was down by just 3 points. And they had the ball. Brad knew this was his moment. As he yelled ‘hike!’ he knew that this moment would solidify his future and, probably, his relationship with the young girl in the stands.

It was over in a flash. Brad threw the ball, it was caught and ran into the end zone. Roosevelt had won and Brad felt like a million bucks. He glanced towards the stands, eager to see the smiling face of his future-wife.

But she wasn’t there. She was in the school hallway, watching two aspiring rap artists battling each other. She fell head-over-heels for both of them.

Suck it, Brad.

For Tom Pepe and Tom Wilson, AKA the ‘KnowMads,’ high school wasn’t the be-all, end-all it was for many of their peers. For the KnowMads, high school was just a stage that you had to do math on sometimes.

The Seattle-born rap duo first became aware of each other in their early teen years. Though they attended different high schools, both had heard about the other thanks to common friends and a mutual love/respect for hip hop.

Pepe described Wilson as a ‘psychopath’ when they first met, due to Wilson’s extreme talent. While he may have been ‘tripped out’ by Wilson, he wasn’t intimidated. Pepe had already competed in a number of freestyle rap battles and he had proven himself to be a worthy challenger. In fact, Pepe actually won a city-wide rap battle when he was 16 years old.

“It was sponsored by this community center,” Pepe remembered. “In some ways, it was kind of corny, but they got one person from every high school and, at the end of the day, you won $500. And I won. That was huge for me.”

Wilson was actually a part of the competition as well, but said he was disqualified for cursing.

Wilson, at the age of 16, was already a veteran of the local hip hop scene. He found hip hop at a very young age and, he said, it was the best form music therapy he could get.

“I would say it always was an outlet, just like the way sports are for a lot of kids,” Wilson stated. “I played tons of sports growing up too but nothing felt as organic and natural as hip hop. To be honest with you, I started so young that I barely even remember it. I grew up learning piano at a really, really young age. My mom would pay for lessons. Then, all of a sudden, I would get bored with it. I’d wanna learn how to play drums, and the exact same thing would happen. I would get bored with it and want to learn guitar. Then I’d get bored with that and finally settled on hip hop at like, 7 years old.”

Most 7-year-olds look up to Batman or Superman or the Power Rangers. Wilson said he was inspired by Run DMC, NWA and Public Enemy. He said he doesn’t remember the exact moment that rap became his outlet, but he knows he was very young.

“I can’t even really remember what started it,” Wilson said. “I think it was just like that feeling that hip hop gives everybody when they partake in it in any form. I’ve got home videos of [myself] from like, 1997 of me at my neighbor’s house kickin’ rhymes while he’s playing drums.”

It was a passion that started early and never really went away. But Wilson said he didn’t start to get really serious as an artist until he collaborated with Pepe and their mutual friend, Jesse.

Pepe also started rapping at a young age. In addition to the aforementioned community center battles, he also competed in a number of open mics and parking lot battles.

“I started when I was 11,” he remembered. “I would go to these summer camps and they would have, like, open mics or whatever and I had this ridiculous idea that I could rap.”

That ridiculous idea led to a whole career. Pepe and Wilson eventually formed a mutual respect for each other, followed by a friendship. It was Wilson who first asked Pepe if he wanted to record in his studio.

“When he said ‘the studio,’ what he really meant was his parents’ house,” Pepe laughed.

“In my room, I built my own little sanctuary,” Wilson retorted. “We didn’t really form a group for a couple years, but that was somewhere that we could go and record and as soon as we started recording, we were professionals,” Wilson said with a slight smirk on his face.

Wilson may or may not have been joking, but the two Toms can certainly be considered ‘professionals’ now. Even as 20-something’s, the two could call themselves veterans of the hip hop scene. They’ve been performing for more than 12 years. They’ve toured across America, played in Mexico City, opened for Macklemore and, ahem, more. And they’ve done so without the aid of a label. While the KnowMads would certainly appreciate the exposure that signing with a major label could bring them, that’s not the biggest priority for them. They don’t want to just be rich or famous. The KnowMads want to make music that speaks to people.

“It’s amazing that we have these diehard fans who are willing to bring us out to these places to do these shows,” Wilson said. “Some people actually credit us as their favorite artist, and that’s amazing. At the same time, it would be amazing to do 40 cities, opening for Brother Ali or Atmosphere or somebody like that because we thrive on that willingness to prove ourselves. I love performing for people who’ve never heard us before.”

Though getting on that fabled ‘next-level’ is always in the periphery of the KnowMads, that isn’t what they’re solely focused on. They focus on the things they can control, which is making the best music they can.

“All you can do is your best,” Pepe stated. “That’s why we decided we’re just going to focus on what we can do. We’re gonna focus on the music and giving our all and then, hopefully, things will work out on the other side as well.”

Undoubtedly, things will work out for the Tom’s. Their talent and work ethic are top-notch and, most importantly, they know who their audience is and they know what their fans are struggling with because, chances are, they’ve struggled with some of the same stuff.

Wilson, for example, spent some time doing ‘sales’ work that wasn’t entirely ‘legal.’ But he realized, pretty quickly, that it was a road that lead to nowhere.

“I’ve worked dead end jobs before and I’ve felt stuck, and that’s a horrible feeling,” Wilson admitted. “But, I’d rather be broke and have my freedom than be rich and in jail.”

Pepe, similarly, struggled with a variety of issues throughout his life and career.

“I think in the process of trying to make it as rap artists, I’ve definitely lost myself at certain points,” he revealed. “I was pretty deep into drugs for a while and that not only swallowed up my ability to make art, but also my ability to just be myself, my true self.”

Pepe continued, saying that he “knew who I was pretty young, but it’s something that you have to nurture. If you let yourself get swallowed up by trying to be cool or trying to be hard or trying to do this or that, you’re gonna probably lose sight of the things you really care about.”

The KnowMads care about a lot of things. They care about their fans, their friends and their family. They care about each other. That care, that love, that truth reveals itself in every one of their songs. And that’s why they’ve built the following that they have. The KnowMads aren’t just making catchy tunes. They’re saying real things that, hopefully, will speak to people.

Wilson said that “everybody’s going through different stuff and if our music, in some capacity can, not just help you with it, but show that you’re not alone, and just bring you some piece of joy or some piece of clarity, that’s all we’re really trying to do. “

The KnowMads, Tom Pepe and Tom Wilson, don’t just want to be ‘famous.’ They don’t want a million followers or a thousand Retweets. Fame would be awesome, but it’s secondary to what they’re actually trying to accomplish, which is giving people a chance to listen to their songs and, hopefully, see a little bit of their own lives reflected in those songs.

If you’ve never heard our music, look us up on Spotify or search us on Google,” Pepe said. “And the reason I say that, instead of [following us on] social media, is because you can’t listen to our music on Facebook. You can’t listen to our music on Instagram. If you wanna follow us there, great. But in the end, even after we’re dead, our goal was always to just get people listening to our art. It gives life to our art. So if you’re listening to our music somewhere, that is what means the most.”

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