Lee and I are teachers, not necessarily in like circumstances, but teaching is in our blood. Although we each raised children, and that is teaching in itself, we both spent time in formal classrooms—kindergarten for me and as a director of a pre-school for Lee. Before I taught kindergarten, my lessons for others were at the piano keyboard. Lee served 20 years as a pastor; thus, he taught in various capacities in a church setting. When he worked as an over-the-road truck driver, the cab of his truck became his classroom as he instructed new drivers.
Taking summer jobs in retail at The Homeroom at Madison Crossing in West Yellowstone, Montana, related not to our teaching professions, but to a learning curve with new skills. The computerized cash register was not my friend for the first few weeks! The Homeroom, located in the gymnasium of West Yellowstone’s old school, is a melting pot of cultures with customers from all over the world browsing the 8,000 square foot store on two levels. The Madison Crossing building includes the entire school building, first established around 1918. Over the years, additions were made and the gymnasium, a study of craftsmanship in laminated wooden beams and the original flooring, was added in 1954. Owners, Gary Evje, pharmacist and owner of the prior Yellowstone Apothecary, West Yellowstone’s town drug store for 35 years, had a vision for the “old school” building. The Homeroom Store, with Andie Withner-Evje’s talent for merchandising and her eye for display, transformed a basketball court into an inviting store filled with cabin furniture and décor, artwork, gift items, Montana huckleberry products, women’s outer wear, Christmas ornaments, candles, table linens, pottery, greeting cards, and gift wrap. Kitchen gadgets, coffees, teas, and gourmet soup and dip mixes fill one aisle; a toy store captures the imagination of both adults and children with games, puzzles, books, stuffed animals, and an assortment of toys to entertain children.
Madison Crossing is located on Madison Avenue in the heart of the small town of West Yellowstone, Montana, the western gateway to Yellowstone National Park. The middle entry of the building was the original early 1900s three-room schoolhouse. Today, those rooms house the event center—a place for catered events, dinner theaters, meetings, and Christmas parties. A fitness center takes up rooms facing Madison Avenue. The Lounge at Madison Crossing, which offers a full menu, custom cocktails and a wine list, is located in the original first and second grade classrooms. We jokingly tell patrons they must raise their hand for a hall pass to go to the restroom!
A real estate office and other businesses fill the remaining classrooms. Down a few steps to the back, a work room for receiving products, assembling furniture, and packing items to ship is in the old school’s shop area. An old sign reminding one of “safety” is still on the overhead garage door. Lee spends most of his hours in this area, getting tables and rockers ready to move onto the Homeroom floor. He often makes furniture deliveries to home owners in West Yellowstone and the surrounding area.
On the floor of the store, we both help customers, wrap their purchases, and inquire about their hometowns. Many local people shop in the Homeroom, but we also encounter customers from all over the world. Some do not speak English and we communicate in various ways. In one week, I met three couples from Paris, France, and another individual who lives outside the city in France. I helped a couple from England make arrangements to have a piece of photography shipped to their home. One evening, a family maintaining homes in both Canada and China, shopped for sculptures, leather-bound notebooks, and other items. Their fifth-grade daughter spoke perfect English and displayed a bubbly personality.
Another Workamping couple, Tom and Ellen Whitesel, swap shifts with us. We overlap hours on only one of the four days that we work. Local staff members vary other hours of our work day. Kathy Brown comes in only a few hours a week. On our first day of working together, a customer watched us for a while, and then asked Kathy if I was her mother. Since there is only a ten-year difference in our ages, we laughed—and she now calls me “Mom.”
Many products in the store are unique. I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of the artists and photographers who sell their work at the Homeroom. Horsehair pottery fills several shelves in the store, and is also placed in different room settings. New to me, the pottery is in glowing reds, yellows, blues, greens, and a russet brown. But the legend behind the pottery makes it special. As the story goes, some Native Americans longed to keep the spirit of their horses with them. After a horse died, they incorporated hair from its mane and tail into their pottery. Today, an artist in South Dakota continues that tradition.
Another artist, Cherie Moss, created Montana Naturally, her own company that grows, harvests, dries, and arranges Montana wildflowers on framed glass. Often the wood is reclaimed from old windows or barns. Many of the flowers are specimens that the Lewis and Clark Expedition discovered on their journey. Moss documents certain flowers with a hand-written date on the glass, stating when the explorers recorded that particular wildflower in journals.
A local craftsman makes custom dining tables displayed in the store. He uses repurposed wood from old buildings or sawmills. Often, the legs are from old beams. Each table has its own unique history. Another Montana craftsman creates rockers and floor lamps from weather-twisted Juniper trees. Each piece is unique because each tree he harvests is different in shape and size.
Several photographers offer their work in prints or cards. Wildlife and various features of Yellowstone National Park are typically the subjects. My favorite is a photo of the Grand Prismatic Spring printed on metal or metallic paper. The local photographer, Christopher Balmer, took the photograph from an ultra-light while flying over the brilliant blue spring, edged with orange algae formed by minerals in the scalding water.
The store owners added a mezzanine to the old gymnasium, a second floor filled with furniture, artwork, lamps, rugs, and numerous items relating to the animals and forests of Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding countryside. As products move in and out, the store changes almost daily. The business is complex. Our learning curve has been huge. But after a few weeks, the cash register is finally my friend. Well, on most days.
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Traveling in their motorhome several months each year, Arline and her photographer husband, Lee Smith, make their permanent home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She currently is a presenter for Workamper Rendezvous, sponsored by Workamper News. Arline has dozens of magazine articles published, as well as five books: “Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure” (now available on Kindle); “Road Work II: The RVer’s Ultimate Income Resource Guide”; “Truly Zula; When Heads & Hearts Collide”; and “The Heart of Branson”, a history of the families who started the entertainment town and those who sustain it today. Visit Arline’s personal blog at ArlineChandler.Blogspot.com