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Cody merchants prepare for tourists with both Wyoming gates open to Yellowstone National Park

A grizzly bear crosses the road between Mammoth and Norris in Yellowstone National Park. (Photo by Lew Freedman, Cody Enterprise)

By Leo Wolfson

Cody Enterprise

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CODY — With Yellowstone National Park’s recent opening limited to its Wyoming entrances in Cody and Jackson, it could be an opportunity for local businesses to benefit from a monopoly of sorts when it comes to tourist traffic.

“The owners we’ve been in contact with are excited for all those reasons,” said Tina Hoebelheinrich, executive director of the Cody chamber. “With both Wyoming gates open, there’s a lot to be happy about and grateful for.”

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and Cam Sholly, Yellowstone superintendent, each said economic gain was a major reason for the opening.

“Of course, hopefully, this is a blessing for Cody,” said Brenda O’Shea, co-owner of A Western Rose Motel. “We are concerned for our friends at the northeast gate, the road in the mountains is one of the most scenic routes through Yellowstone.”

Montana’s three gates are still closed, per direction from its Gov. Mark Bullock.

“I think Cody is kind of being used as a guinea pig, because we had so little cases and don’t have any more active ones,” O’Shea said. “This might just bring more cases to us, but it might also be a slow transition back into normalcy, so something had to be done. I’m thankful for the governor’s decision to let us open.”

Some business owners are cautiously optimistic.

“It’s an opportunity for businesses,” said Kalyn Beasley, manager at Legends Bookstore. “We’re dependent on tourists and tourist seasons.”

Holiday Inn general manager James Blair took a more dour tone.

“Everybody is so focused on Yellowstone being open,” Blair said. “Look around, nobody’s here.”

Susan Cory, owner of Peter’s Cafe, depends on Yellowstone tourists as her business makes boxed lunches for large tour groups frequenting the Park.

Now with her bigger bus tour clients cancelled through July, what this summer may look like for her business could be a frightening thought. One company she does about $25,000 of business with per summer had nothing on the books with her for May.

“That money we use to get through the winter,” she said. “That’s the biggest concern.”

Cory said the bigger tours have kept their contracts for August and September, and some tour companies only canceled for the first six weeks of the season. She said she already had a few boxed lunches scheduled for Monday’s opening.

A few other businesses had already noticed an uptick in business as of late last week. Under Gordon’s newest health order, all businesses can operate in some capacity.

Brian Wiegand, owner of Bubba’s Bar-B-Que, said traffic was steady last week in its first day opening the dining room to the public, since the governor’s new order. He said he would have liked more than three days between opening back up and Yellowstone’s opening.

“It’s challenging to say the least,” he said. “It’s challenging trying to adapt to the new health ordinances.”

He’s also concerned about finding a large enough workforce this summer.

“Hopefully we’ll get a little more time before we get a large influx of people,” he said.

Sourcing J-1 international student employees will be difficult for business owners and there’s a limited pool of local workers, some of whom are making more money on unemployment than they did employed thanks to the extra $600 per week in benefits.

It has not been announced when Montana’s three Yellowstone gates will open. Furthermore, the Park will only be open for day-use and will have no dining options.

“I think it will definitely help local restaurants with there being no carryout in the Park,” said Claudia Wade, director of the Park County Travel Council. “People coming from any distance to Yellowstone will likely include Cody in their travel plans.”

Only time will tell whether all traffic being directed through Wyoming will bring a change to the dormant economy of the last few months.

“That’s the giant question in my mind,” Blair said.