America at its best – The Basketeria

    There is a for sale sign out front today, but for the best part of a century it was an institution for the people of Pavillion and the farms surrounding the small Fremont County town.

    The Basketeria waiting for a buyer and a new future in Pavillion – h/t Randy Tucker

    The Basketeria came into existence in 1938, the dream of Eldon Jones.

    Eldon named the store after one in his hometown of Harrisburg, Nebraska. He grew up in the grocery business working for his father.

    Eldon heard about Pavillion, and in his words from a 1977 interview, “Pavillion seemed as good a place as any.”

    He built a 24×40 store and lived bachelor-style in the basement.

    While the rest of America recovered from the ravages of the Great Depression, Wyoming, as usual, was one of the last places to experience the recovery.

    Groceries, conversation and friendship for three-quarters of a century the Basketeria in Pavillion – h/t Randy Tucker

    “Dad came and didn’t have much of anything to do, he was hoping to get a job at Herder’s Store. He told Paul Herder he wanted to get into the store business. Herder said I’ll give you a case of peaches, when you sell that, I’ll give you something else. Dad sold the peaches, then he sold more peaches and beans. Herder “angel funded” dad in that first year,” their son Dennis said. “Herder said I’m doing this because I want out. He liked Dad and decided that Dad should be his follow-up. He was looking to get out, and Dad was looking to get in.”

    Business improved with Eldon running the store. An engaging young man, he offered advice, and friendly conversation on the favorite topics in Fremont County at the time, and still today, farming, politics, and gasoline prices.

    Money was short for potential customers, but Eldon found that while they were often short on cash, they had milk, eggs, cream, grain, and sometimes seasonal produce to trade for their groceries. Customers appreciated this, and the Basketeria grew.

    In 1940 Eldon added to the store, expanding it to its modern 50×60 footprint, and built a warehouse behind it a year later in 1941.

    Paul Herder and Eldon Jones. Competitors and friends in the Pavillion grocery market – h/t Irene Jones

    War ravaged the world from 1939 to 1945, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese had Eldon joining with millions of other young American men in enlisting in the service.

    Eldon joined the Navy and served in both the Atlantic and the Pacific on the USS Sigsbee, a Fletcher Class Destroyer. The Sigsbee was commissioned in 1943 and served as an escort, fighting U-boats in the Atlantic before it was sent to the Pacific late in the war.

    Eldon served as Sigsbee’s storekeeper, a role he was naturally attuned to. He saw action late in the war as the Sigsbee was part of a task force with the aircraft carriers Yorktown, Essex, and Independence.

    In his absence, Lois Jones Lankford, Ann Schamber Six, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Peters, Mr. and Mrs. Amos Neil, and Mr. and Mrs. C.L. Crowthers took turns managing the Basketeria.

    Eldon was studying at the University of Wisconsin, in Sheboygan, when he met Irene.

    “Mom was working in Chicago,” Dennis said. “Mom and Dad met at a USO in Chicago.

    USS Sigsbee – h/t US Navy

    After Eldon returned to Pavillion in April 1946, they had a long-distance relationship that ended in their marriage in November 1949.

    “She was a little bit out of her element living at the store,” Dennis said. “The house across the street was Paul Herder’s old store. I’m not going to be pregnant living in the basement, she said. Dad took the store and moved into it as a house.”

    Nancy was born in 1952 and Dennis in 1954.   

    Herder’s Cash Store. Paul Herder helped Eldon Jones start his grocery business in Pavillion – h/t Shirley Knight

    Irene came to Pavillion and is fondly remembered by many customers, especially the young girls who often had slumber parties with Nancy in later years.

    Eldon continued the barter system until he sold the store in 1977.

    “If people were fair with me, I was usually fair with them,” Eldon said in comments made as he sold the store to Harold and Shirley Knight.

    The view from the rear entrance by the kitchen of the Basketeria in 2023 – h/t Randy Tucker

    One incident didn’t pay off well for Eldon.

    One cold winter night a man came in with no money and nothing to trade except a raccoon skin coat, the kind that was popular in the 1920s and among 1950s-era college students.

    The man promised to return with cash the next evening to pay for his grocers and to get his coat back. He never returned.

    Many years later Eldon and Irene learned the coat had been stolen. Eldon kept the coat as a reminder of that night.

    “I still have that coat,” Dennis said. “It’s a great coat.”

    Nancy Stearns grew up near Pavillion and worked many years as an English teacher at Wind River. She was a friend of Nancy Jones and Irene as well.

    “We often shopped at Gardner’s Market as well as at the Basketeria, nearly everyone in the area called it Jones’. The store had a wonderful penny candy case, and it was a treat to walk there at lunch on the well-worn path through the vacant lot across the street from the school, over a small ditch, and then in front of the town library and on to cross Main Street,” Nancy said. “My family often purchased our Christmas tree at the store. For a long time, the front door of the store was on the southeast corner of the building. Many local people got fresh water from a spigot by the back door if their well was not good. I don’t know if Eldon ever charged anyone for it.”

    The couple both had roles in the community well beyond their responsibilities at the store.

    Eldon was on the town council for decades and served as mayor for many years.

    “If a member of the community died, Eldon always had a place for people to donate money for flowers and to sign a card. It was a nice service for the community,” Nancy said.

    Irene Jones riding a go-cart in the 1968 Pavillion Homecoming parade – h/t Nancy Stearns

    Irene had a role that appealed to girls and young women in the little farming town.

    “I don’t know if she realized it, but Irene was a role model for many girls in our small community. She encouraged girls to make a life for themselves and to be independent. She was quick to offer a sympathetic ear and to offer advice when it was needed. During my junior high and high school years, I went to several slumber parties at the Jones’ home. Irene was always a gracious hostess for those overnight invasions. In my opinion, anyone who allows a group of six or seven giggling girls into their home for not one but several nights certainly deserves a medal,” Nancy said. “Irene had a very distinct voice, if I close my eyes, I can still hear the lilt of her words and the tone of her voice. Several times, I accompanied the Jones family to community concerts in Riverton and Lander. Attending those concerts was special. Growing up on a dairy farm limited my opportunities because chores always came first. Because my mother was unable to provide this type of experience, I was grateful for the exposure to a variety of music and arts that the concerts and Mrs. Jones provided. Irene went out of her way to make me feel welcome in her home and with her family. Irene was also a historian and a writer. She researched and compiled a book about the Pavillion community, titled Pavillion City. She preserved the community’s history in her book. Mrs. Jones was probably the first adult friend I had, and she was a good one. Sadly, I didn’t have the opportunity to thank her for the positive role she played in my life.”

    With a growing family, the Jones enlarged the store in April 1961 to include a creamery. They closed the creamery in 1971.

    Christmas at the Basketeria in the early 80s – h/t Shirley Knight

    “I stocked shelves and had an early version of a skateboard,” Dennis said. “Dad would let me run my skateboard up and down the aisles after everybody was gone.”

    As the son of a store owner, you often had unique jobs to do.

    “When I was little, I had to test all the eggs to see if they were good or fertile,” Dennis said. “The ones that were good I’d put in a brown bag and put them in the cooler.”

    Small towns are havens for gossip and rumors can run wild.

    “There was a rumor that there was a tunnel between our house and the store. Dad needed to replace the water line to the street, the original one was old. He said he’d pay me to go down to the crawlspace and dig all the way to the street,” Dennis said. “People thought that because we were hauling dirt out of the back of the store. It was quite a bit.”

    After almost 40 years running the store, raising a family, and serving their community, Eldon and Irene decided to sell the Basketeria.

    After 40 years Eldon and Irene Jones sold the Basketeria to Harold and Shirley Knight – h/t Shirley Knight

    Harold and Shirley Knight were looking for a store to purchase in rural Fremont County.

    “Harold spoke with Bolly Shuttlesworth about the Missouri Valley Store and at the Village Store in Riverton,” Shirley said.

    Harold was working for Slusser Wholesale from Green River, supplying stores in Fremont County.

    “He serviced stores from Lysite to Crowheart and liked the area,” Shirley said. “He saw all these stores and worked with Eldon at the Basketeria.”

    Harold Knight taking a brief break from the lunch counter – h/t Shirley Knight

    Eldon offered to sell the Basketeria to Harold and Shirley beginning in 1975, but the time wasn’t right.

    “Eldon said I want to sell, but we couldn’t move, we’d just bought a house in Thermopolis,” Shirley said. “He loaned us $5,000 and we bought the store in 1977.”

    The new owners operated the Basketeria much as the Jones’ did but added their own flair to the store.

    They opened a lunch counter and served meals they made at the Basketeria to senior citizens as part of the meal program offered by the Riverton Senior Citizen’s Center.

    The Basketeria was the only place to feed teams playing at the Wind River Junior High and served many high school teams that played at the high school in Morton before the new building was constructed in 1993.

    Shirley Knight waiting to take orders at the Basketeria – h/t Shirley Knight

    “We served busloads of kids,” Shirley said.

    The Basketeria had dry goods, motor oil, fresh produce and meat, and household supplies.

    “We sold everything,” Shirley said. “Fishing and hunting licenses, but anytime someone wanted to buy a gun we went through Jerry Fehring who had a Federal Firearms License.”

    They sold fishing poles, lures, and line as well.

    “Barb Burrows came in for the one-shot rabbit hunt in Shoshoni at 11:30 one night,” Shirley said. “She needed a small game license the next morning.”

    Harold Knight at one of his tables – h/t Shirley Knight

    Variety was the name of the game for the Knights. “We sold plastic and canvas dams for irrigating from Casper. We sold it on rolls and cut it in the store. We sold Christmas trees, Swisher candy at Christmas, and cinnamon bears and peanut clusters,” Shirley said. “It was a good life, we survived.”

    They purchased their groceries through Associated Foods in Billings, bought milk, cheese, and butter from Meadow Gold in Riverton, and Sweetheart bread delivered by Bill House.

    “We got a produce truck in once a week, we tried to keep it on hand,” Shirley said. “We never went to town to get produce. We got our meat from Logan Packing. Westlake’s provided meat for fire hall fundraisers. One day I went in there (Logans) and they said if we sold it (Westlake’s) we would be turned in to the meat inspector. We couldn’t sell or donate sausage from Westlake’s or use it at the fire hall since it wasn’t USDA inspected. We quit Logans and went to Clark’s Meat House

    A section of the kitchen in the back of the Basketeria – h/t Shirley Knight

    They had a magazine selection brought in each week by Kevin Hermann of Riverton who recently retired as manager of Rocky Mountain Sporting Goods.

    “We cashed checks and sometimes picked them up in town,” Shirley said. “Lonny Mantle gave Harold a contract to rent a horse for a dollar. He never took him up on it.”

    The Basketeria rode the video wave of the early 80s and into the late 90s with video rentals.

    “We rented VCRs and movies,” Shirley said. “We had a supplier for a while, then we just bought the ones we wanted.”

    It was the video cassette business that led to a future career for Shirley after they sold the store to Dick Jacques in 1991.

    The Basketeria in 2023 – h/t Randy Tucker

    Shirley is an avid skier.

    “I started driving the ski bus with Chuck Gomendi and Bill Howard and brought along VCRs and movies for the kids when we stayed in Jackson,” Shirley said.

    After selling the store, Shirley became a Wind River bus driver, working a route and taking kids on trips.

    Jacques ran the store until 2001 when he sold it to Rich and Diane Johnson who owned it until 2011.

    The side of the Basketeria in 2023 – h/t Randy Tucker

    In the years since 2011 when Johnson’s sold the store. It’s been the Horseshoe Café and the Lucky Duck Restaurant operated by Tex Frazier.

    The building is still viable and has been on the market for a few years.

    This is the story of one grocery store that became synonymous with a little farming community. The stories continue to emanate from the Basketeria like ripples from a stone tossed into a pond.

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