A handful of business owners in Jackson have accepted the challenge of turning tiny storefronts into quaint shopping and dining nooks. Residents and tourists love the results.
Boutique retailers like Made, Tobacco Row, Bet the Ranch and Town Square Tavern Liquors pack their limited square footage with goodies, building an aesthetic that draws shoppers in from the street.
Kim’s Corner and Down On Glen are typical hole-in-the-wall takeout restaurants with delicious offerings — the kinds of places a person knows about only from word of mouth.
Put five people in one of these places, and suddenly it’s a crowd, packed elbow to elbow but also giving the feeling of exclusivity.
John Frechette — the owner of Made, a gift shop stocking only handmade work by local and regional artists — stumbled upon his 480-square-foot spot in Gaslight Alley three years ago. Six others were vying for the space, but Frechette won the lease.
“People love the idea that we’re a little boutique store,” he said. “We like being small and locally recognized.”
Frechette is forced to be creative with displays, but he sees that as an asset. Made’s tables undergo constant rearrangements to add inventory and maintain swank. Frechette uses lots of layers and varied elevations to store items.
Handmade glass belt buckles, etched pint glasses, ceramic bowls and cups are tucked on a central table surrounded by jewelry, linens and greeting cards displayed neatly along the four walls. Lots of nooks and crannies make sure customers always see something new.
Hillary Rosendahl owns pony-size Bet the Ranch, another boutique gift shop, next door to Made. She too utilizes every inch of her 380-square-foot space. Vintage cowboy boots and nouveau Western home decor line her shelves.
Rosendahl pounded the pavement three and a half years ago to find the perfect space. Other stores were too big, and the rent was above her comfort level, she said.
The Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat Company occupied the space where Bet the Ranch and Made now live when Rosendahl decided to move into half of the meat company’s store. She built a wall between the spaces and opened up shop.
Across the street on North Cache, Tobacco Row, an outfitter of premium cigars and tobacco products owned by Brady Hayek, crams as much as possible into 300 square feet. Fortunately, cigars are small, so it works, Hayek said.
In the back, Tobacco Row’s humidor is basically a closet with sliding glass doors. One employee perches behind a counter surrounded by thousands of pipes and products as customers shuffle sideways to move by each other.
Town Square Tavern Liquors is another occupant in the small retail sector. Steve and Mike Mattheis, owners of the second-floor Town Square Tavern, use the 250 square feet below the bar as a liquor, soft drink and snack store.
“I’ve got plenty of experience seeing tourists come and look for items on the square,” Mike Mattheis, a lifelong Jackson resident, said. “It filled a need.”
Restaurants are a different animal, but Kim’s Corner, a Korean takeout restaurant, and Down On Glen, known for its spicy breakfast burritos, face many of the same issues.
Only two people work in Down On Glen at a time, serving breakfast and lunch from 6:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Standing within the confines of approximately 104 square feet, one employee takes orders from behind the Dutch door and another fries, scrambles and dices sausage, eggs and vegetables to roll into flour tortillas.
Kim’s Corner, encapsulated in 70 square feet, can hold only one employee, and that’s chef-owner Kim Degman. Guests order food from a window at the end of Powderhorn Mall then wait patiently as she makes each dish to order.
Serving only three options — spicy pork, spinach-soy-ginger beef patties and vegetable rice bowls — makes it easier on Degman to prepare meals, but space is a major challenge. She is forced to make daily trips to the grocery store, conveniently located in the plaza, because her refrigerators are dorm-size. She buys the smallest amount possible, but it must be enough to feed the lunch crowd the next day. One result is a reputation for freshness and quality.
“I can no longer advertise, because I can’t handle the amount of people” and still uphold high standards, she said.
So far, her model works, and she’s learned a lot about what is expected from her as a restaurateur.
“It’s challenging,” she said. “I need to balance between the customer service, being quick and having good quality. People want it fast, but you really have to put love into your food, and people also want to talk to you.”
Degman wears many hats — chef, server, dishwasher, cashier, bookkeeper — but she plans to wear only one when she expands as early as next year. She’s waiting for the right opportunity and the right investor to bring her Korean dishes to more people in a sit-down environment.
While Degman dreams of expanding, the owners of Town Square Tavern Liquors, Made, Tobacco Row and Bet the Ranch don’t. In their cases, the teeny spaces ad to the ambiance.
“Sometimes, we would love to have more space,” Frechette said, “but on the flip side it keeps our rent as minimal as possible.
Independent artists can only produce so much at a time anyway, so this way we can focus on things we love, don’t have to sell out and can be a place that locals are comfortable coming to shop.”
Location also plays a part with businesses’ success. Rosendahl said she has definitely looked at expanding, but making the leap to a larger space comes down to money and location.
“The location here is so epic,” she said. “I get the walk-by traffic, so I don’t have to advertise a lot.”
Foot traffic means community support — something all business owners claimed is exceptional in Jackson.
“Locals really want to help local businesses,” Degman said. “I don’t think I could have this restaurant without their support.”
Breaking into the small business market isn’t easy, but starting small is a way to test the water. Each business owner carved a niche and answered a need, known or unknown, in the community.
Rosendahl’s parents, Joni and Albert Upsher, were entrepreneurs who opened Snake River Brewing Company.
“They told me to start small because you can always grow, and no matter what you’re doing, things always evolve,” she said. “If you have a dream and you want to do something, you should do it. All it takes is a dollar and a dream.”