by marlys good
Jim McLauchlan is closing the doors at Dirty Annie’s which for 26 years has been a popular stop before you went up, or came down off of, the Big Horn Mountains.
The restaurant officially stopped serving meals Sunday, Feb. 7; the kitchen equipment has been sold, and the store will remain open until all the merchandize is gone.
“Everything goes,” McLauchlan said.
Roy and Sally Gregory built the store in 1991. Sally laughs, “I had worked for Dr. Doerr in Basin as a dental hygienist off and on for 25 years.” For personal reasons she quit her job and moved back to Oklahoma, where she had been raised, and met Roy, who just happened to have lived in Basin for years. The two got married, returned to Wyoming and moved into a house Sally owned that sat right behind where Dirty Annie’s is now.
Sally said, “We were out walking one day, just for the exercise, and talked about what an ideal spot it would be for a convenience store. We knew there was a need for one, for people coming off the mountain, running out of gas, having car trouble. It was a ideal place to stop.”
The two put a plan together, took tape measures and stakes and went out and staked a 24 x 30 area. Someone else poured the foundation, but after that it was all Roy and Sally.
“We didn’t know if (a convenience store) would work, and we didn’t want to go into a lot of debt over it it, so we did what we could ourselves.”
There were the essential gas pumps (Sally said they knew they needed the gas “as a stopper”) and a small gift shop.
“The store was designed so that any customer coming in passed through the gift shop before reaching the counter, bathrooms, etc. Hardly anyone came in without leaving with something,” Sally laughed.
When they decided to offer lunches (hamburgers only) the Gregorys opted to purchase a small, self-contained hamburger broiler. “It was big enough to do 10 at a time. We didn’t want a big grill, all the overhead stuff (state-mandated exhaust fans would cost about $10,000). We just set it in a corner and were ready to go.”
From day one, “Business was really good; we were busy,” Sally said.
The two worked side-by-side, enjoying the camaraderie of the local customers as well as tourists. Down the road they “added a bona-fide grill that met state standards. We just did lunches, but then we added breakfast. (The grill closed at 3 p.m.)”
Roy and Sally enrolled at Northwest College in Powell and took small business course/bookkeeping/accounting classes, and a small business entrepreneur course. The entrepreneur course “was very involved. We drove to Powell once a week for two or three months. We got so much valuable information from it.
“For the first three years we worked in that little 24 x 30 area then another 25 feet, doubled our space, and ran it like that for three more years after which a second addition was built on.”
In between the beginning and the addition, the late George Greene stopped at Dirty Annie’s and Sally recalls, “George had been bugging Roy about coming to work at M-I. He finally said, ‘Just come out for six weeks; help get us over the hump,’” and Roy agreed. Six weeks turned into Roy’s retirement from MI 11 years later.
Soon after that, Dr. Doerr called Sally, told her he had an opening for a hygienist and asked if she was interested. She started working for him two days a week.
Those were busy years; they managed to get away during “lull hours,” sometimes using the half-hour or hour to drive up the mountain to the base of the “switchbacks, put the seats back and take a breather.”
After 10 years the couple decided they needed to take some “real” time off. They knew, however, that “owner absenteeism” is one of the reasons small businesses fail.
“Diane (McLauchlan) was working for us and had been for a while. She was such a good employee, so reliable, so we asked her if she would like to be a manager.”
Diane told them she would have to ask Jim and a week later came back and said they wanted to buy it.
“We decided it would be a good thing to do, so we sold it,” Sally laughed.
Jim has been the “driver” for the 16 ensuing years. He didn’t feel up to commenting for this story, but in a letter written to the Standard last week, Dineen Mueller praised McLauchlan for his (and Dirty Annie’s) importance to the community, saying he and his employees “have continued to give back to the community in so many ways.” She mentioned Annie’s as a storefront of selflessness, a mailroom or message center, giving to families in need, supporting the Shell Volunteer Fire Department, EMS, giving the community a place to display raffle items for fundraisers, collecting signatures on petitions, supplying coffee, drinks and sandwiches in the wee hours while neighbors fought fires or sandbagged during local floods.”
The store, Mueller said, offered “something for everyone and anything.” Hunting/fishing licenses, conservation stamps, maps, ORV/ATV stickers, gloves, propane, camping gear, “enough to get lost with” according to Mueller.
It’s sad to see an establishment close its door, to have what was the only “coffee stop,” “pit stop,” “ice cream shop” gathering place for neighbors, tourist attraction, from Greybull to the top of the Big Horns close is a double loss.
P.S. You couldn’t beat the milkshakes.