The Star of 89: Adding Four Vibrant Businesses to Our Community

October 5, 2022

(Photo gallery at the end of this article)

Three couples are renovating the old Ford building in Afton to bring more social and economic opportunity to Star Valley.

Breanna Call, SVI Media

Star Valley just got a little brighter. Thanks to a trio of cousins and their spouses, exciting changes and unique businesses will soon join Afton’s main street. Wendee and Scott Graham of Afton, Chad and Bethany Packard of Turnerville, and Owen and Aimee Packard of Highland, UT, are transforming the old Ford building on the corner of 4th Avenue and U.S. Highway 89 into a conglomerate of much-needed businesses. 

The building, located just south of Maverick, has been a part of the town’s history for nearly a century. It has housed a Texaco gas station, a Rambler and Chrysler dealership, an insurance agency, a dental office, and more. Wendee said, “Just look at that fabulous, historic building! It has so much potential and with its location, it will continue to be a great part of Afton’s downtown.” The corner it sits on is one of the busiest intersections in western Wyoming, so the couples knew it was the perfect place for their ambitious plans.

“We want to capitalize on this thoroughfare on U.S. Highway 89,” says Chad. “People—both local and from outside of Star Valley—are coming through Afton anyway, so if we can get them to stop a little bit longer and enjoy Star Valley, that would be great.” 

Star Valley sits almost smack-dab in the middle of Highway 89, which because of the many national parks that dot its path, has been deemed “America’s most scenic highway.” This means that thousands of people from every continent drive through Star Valley every year. The couples’ hope is that travelers will recognize the star that Star Valley is. “We want to tell people from the outside and locals,” says Scott, “[Star Valley] is not just a place to come drive through on Highway 89 and stop and take a picture in front of the elk antler arch.” The goal is that with the right resources and amenities, travelers will stay in Star Valley, spend time in our community, and support our local businesses.

As an example of how the building showcases Star Valley, its north side will feature a large mural, completed by local artist Kayla Graham. It will include some of the scenic national parks along Highway 89 and will prominently feature Star Valley with a large star in the center. This will make a wonderful photo opportunity for passersby. 

To turn their vision into a reality, the owners have invested countless hours into its renovation, including leveling the concrete, new electric and plumbing, a new roof and ceiling, a new floor plan, and much, much more. “A lot of the grunt work,” says Owen, “we’ve done ourselves. This building is just going to be beautiful. Everybody is going to love this.”

“As partners we wanted to do something that was meaningful for the community,” says Scott, “A new kind of fun place to come and have an enjoyable time. . . . You could eat, shop, gather, and stay.” And that’s exactly what they plan to do.

The remodeled building will be made up of four interconnected businesses: The Giftery, a gift shop; Gather, an event venue; Swirl, a frozen yogurt and Belgian waffle shop; and The Lofts on 89, short-term luxury lodging rentals. 

This summer, we got a sneak peek of The Giftery. As renovations usually go, the project experienced a few setbacks and didn’t open when they had originally planned, but the partners didn’t let this hold them back. Instead, they got creative and set up a tent in the front of their building, where they sold their merchandise. They sold and will continue to sell clothing, jewelry, and other unique gifts that are manufactured and designed by local artisans and have a Star Valley focus. “We don’t want it to be about Yellowstone or Jackson,” says Chad. 

“We’re just really trying to brand Star Valley” says Bethany, “not just Afton, but Star Valley as a whole.” That means when shopping at The Giftery, you won’t find much merchandise featuring the national parks of Wyoming. It will all be about Star Valley. 

“Gather is an event venue,” says Bethany, “that will be available for any range of events from social to business. The audio and visual plans include a large LED video wall with high-end lighting and audio equipment. We’re going to show all the high school away games, BYU games, University of Wyoming games, Denver Bronco games for free for the community and have food trucks available. Besides the games, once a quarter, Gather wants to sponsor some sort of community event. In addition, local and other bands and performing groups will find a top-notch venue to entertain. They won’t all be free, but we want to promote the space and give the community places to come and do really fun, unique things.” Gather has a capacity of approximately 200 people. It will also be available for parties, receptions, classes, corporate meetings and events, and more. In fact, it already has two weddings booked for this summer.

Swirl will be a wonderful place to socialize and stop for a delicious treat. Here, you can buy frozen yogurt and authentic Liège Belgian waffles. “These Liège waffles,” says Chad, “are more of a caramelized waffle cookie. It’s heavy. It’s dense with pearl sugar and all the toppings you could put on it.” The partners also plan to build a large deck in the front of the building where you can eat or just enjoy the scenery.

On the second floor, there will be three luxury lofts—one-, two-, and three-bedroom suites. The short-term rentals will each come with top-of-the line TVs, kitchens, and fireplaces. “They are going to be very beautiful and very comfortable for our guests,” says Scott. 

“We’ll want to offer packages,” says Wendee, “combining The Lofts on 89 and Gather.” Meaning, if you are hosting a wedding, a Christmas party, or the like, your family can stay right above the venue. 

If all goes well, The Giftery plans to  have a soft “re-opening” on or before Black Friday—November 25, and the rest of the building, around Valentine’s Day 2023, with it fully operational by Memorial Day 2023. “There has been so much enthusiasm from the community,” says Wendee. “It’s been a blast!” With the realization of these plans, The Star of 89 will be a new shining star on Afton’s main street, adding more brilliance and vibrancy to our community.

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