by marlys good
One of the cornerstones of Greybull’s business district, Probst Western Store, founded in 1945 and owned and operated by three generations of the Probst family for the past 71 years, is closing its doors.
There is no definite date set for its closing, but “Sometime in August, this anchor of Greybull’s business community will come to an end,” according to Jeff Probst, founder Larry’s son, and father of the present owner, Tyson, who purchased the family business in 2004.
Jeff said, “Webster defines tradition as the handing down of beliefs and customs from one generation to another and cultural continuity in social customs.
“My dad passed on his beliefs of how to run a small town business to me, and then to Tyson. It has been a Greybull tradition shown by the return of many customers who have moved away, returned to Greybull and stopped by Probst’s because it has been a part of the memory that makes Greybull, well, Greybull.”
In November of 1945 a young ex-serviceman from Gillette arrived in Greybull and purchased the Big Horn Shoe and Harness Shop from the Harry Traylor estate.
Two days after purchasing the business, the young man, Larry Probst, with the help of his father who was in the same kind of business in Gillette, started rearranging the shop in preparation for the “grand opening” of Probst Leather Store.
In 1954, Probst purchased the Engle building at the corner of Greybull Avenue and South Sixth St.; a portion of which was home to the “Flower Center,” owned and operated by Greybull’s then mayor Oscar Shoemaker. Probst and Shoemaker swapped locations, and Probst Western found its permanent location.
Probst’s son, Jeff, said his father saved up $600 while he was in the U.S. Army during World War II. “He needed another $900 to buy a tack and shoe repair shop at the end of Greybull Avenue.” So, on his arrival in Greybull, Probst approached G.W. Williams (as the banker was going into the First National Bank long before business hours) about borrowing the money he needed. Williams looked Probst over carefully, evidently liked what he saw, and told the young man to return to the bank at 9:15 and they would have the papers ready to sign.
“A few months after he opened, Dad bought 12 pairs of cowboy boots and became a retailer,” Jeff laughed. The original sales tax license, a piece of cardboard, is dated 1945.
Jeff went to work for his father in 1969, and Jeff’s son, and present owner of the family-based store, started work at the store in 1994, and purchased it in 2004.
“The family business philosophy is quite simple,” Jeff shared. “Have plenty of inventory and treat your customers well. There might be a little more to it, like pay your bills on time and keep your word, but in the end it is about people – the ones who worked for you and others in the community who kept you going.”
The Probsts, from first generation to third generation, believe in being involved in the community, be that as members of boards or committees, from Days of ’49 to Chamber of Commerce to Midway Golf, the men, and women of the family have been involved and made a difference.
The decision to close after 71 years, is one that was not made lightly, but is the decision both Jeff and Tyson feel is the right one.
“It was always in the back of our minds,” Tyson said. “We fought it off as long as we could. The decision was definitely economically driven,” he added. “Lots of things changed in the last few years.” There are the different avenues people shop – focusing on internet, the extensive work on Greybull Avenue that in reality “shut it down” one summer, rerouting the tourists around the business district. Tyson said.
“A thousand cuts,” Jeff added of the myriads of little things that were factored into the final decision. “They all added up.”
Jeff has spent the past few days in the store, sharing the store’s last big, and final sale. “I have had many people tell me how sorry they are to see us go. Greybull will be different without Probst Western Store, but the Probst family will keep going – as will the town of Greybull.”
With a smile, Jeff said, “I like to say I view this as a 71-year success story. What are the odds of a business lasting 71 years and three generations in a town of under 2,000 people? Probably a lot longer today than they were in 1945.”
It is a store, and a family, that has left a mark on the history of our small town.