WEST YELLOWSTONE — Amidst a natural, historic disaster it’s difficult to find an aspect of a community that hasn’t been affected: lodging, to tourism, outfitters, retail and more.
The Yellowstone T-Shirt Co. has been on Canyon Street in the gateway community of West Yellowstone for 45 years, and has been through the fires of 1988, to the pandemic, and now the historic flood.
“In the years I’ve been here, I had never seen it rain like we had,” Julia Wittmer said.
Wittmer has owned and worked at the Yellowstone T-Shirt Co. for eight years and lived in West Yellowstone for more than 40 years. “All of a sudden the whole park was closed. I told my employees, ‘get ready, it’s going to be kind of a crazy day.”
Thousands of cars fled the West Gate when the evacuation began on June 13, leaving business owners with questions about the future. Destination Yellowstone and Conventional Visitors Bureau President and CEO Katrina Wiese notes the influence the park has on foot traffic.
“They make the majority of their money during the summer season, and to see us closed down that’s going to scare anybody,” Wiese said, “Especially a small business owner—and to see those cancellations there was definitely some fear.”
The West Gate to Yellowstone National Park was closed for 10 days, and during that time difficult decisions had to be made for the businesses in the gateway community.
“At this time, I usually have six (employees) on the flood, and today we have three, so it makes a big difference,” Wittmer said.
Wittmer has reduced the hours of her staff, to meet the demand of foot traffic coming through the door. With the gate opened, more and more visitors are coming through West Yellowstone.
The Park gates near Gardiner and Cooke City, the North and Northeast Entrance, remain closed, and Wittmer notes how fortunate she feels that the West Gate was able to open up.
“More help the people in Gardiner and Cooke than anything,”
“This too shall pass, we’ll get through it, Wittmer said, “We’re fortunate that we’re open and (Gardiner and Cooke City) they’re not,”