SILVER GATE, MT — When you decide to open a shop in a tourist town, is there a better name than “Stop the Car”?
Stop the Car Trading Post is a tiny store in Silver Gate, located between Yellowstone National Park’s Northeast Entrance and Cooke City.
Shop owner Cheryl Ciccarelli had just started opening up for the longer hours of summer on Thursday last week, under bluebird skies and springlike temperatures.
The shop is open pretty much year-round, but with more limited hours in winter.
There’s a lodge across the street that rents cabins, she said, and she’ll open up when there’s a group of, for example, cross-country skiers staying there.
“I’ll put on some soup and elk chili,” Ciccarelli said.
Stop the Car Trading Post, which opened in 2010 in a 1930s-era log cabin, carries some snack foods, coffee, Wilcoxson’s ice cream, books and maps, works by local artists and photographers and handcrafts created by Ciccarelli.
Ciccarelli credits her husband’s sister, Mary Wolfe, with coming up with the shop name.
“We were sitting around trying to think up a name,” Ciccarelli said while tending her shop last week. “Mary suggested Stop the Car, and we all laughed.”
But the more they thought about, the better they liked it.
“Tourists stop in and say they saw a moose a few miles back and they always say somebody yelled, ‘Stop the Car!’” she laughed.
So it stuck.
Her sister-in-law still earns a commission on the name.
“Every time someone comes in and says they stopped because of the name or that they liked the name, she gets 25 cents,” Ciccarelli recounted. “She makes about $50 to $60 a year. It’s her royalty.”
Originally from Vermont, Ciccarelli said her husband’s family has been visiting the area since the 1960s and bought property in the 1970s. Her mother-in-law “fell in love with the area” on her honeymoon in the 60’s, Ciccarelli said, and the family continues to visit after her passing in 2005. The shop is a family affair that her husband Tom Wolfe’s family, including his siblings, nieces and nephews and now great-nieces and -nephews, chipped in for financially.
Silver Gate, which has about 100 residents in the summer, had a population of 7 this past winter, Ciccarelli said, counting on her fingers. Silver Gate is quieter in the winter than Cooke City, which is a launch site for snowmobilers to access the national forest roads east of town. Silver Gate attracts wolf watchers, birders and cross-country skiers who, with just a short drive or a few kicks on their skis, can be inside the park.
Keeping a shop open at the end of the road — the only way in and out of Silver Gate for most of the year is though the park to Mammoth Hot Springs and Gardiner — takes some creativity. There’s mail, of course, and UPS and FedEx deliveries, but she has to travel to Wilcoxson’s wholesale ice cream plant in Livingston to pick up ice cream, at least until the delivery schedule picks up in summer. Keeping ice cream cold all the way from Livingston to Silver Gate — a trip that takes about three hours in spring weather and light tourist traffic — takes a bit of a mental toll, Ciccarelli joked.
“You pray there won’t be any bison jams,” she said.
Ciccarelli is buoyant and chatty with nearly all her customers, chatting with Sue Pyper, a Midvale, Utah, resident, as she prepared a substantial single-scoop ice cream cone for her Thursday. Pyper said she had first visited Silver Gate “decades and decades” ago.
Stop the Car has a number of repeat customers, many of whom visit its active Facebook page. Every year she holds a contest on Facebook to guess how many gallons of ice cream she sold the previous year. Last year it was 803 and 754 in 2015.
And her Internet connection, in a town yet without cell service, isn’t cheap — satellite Internet costs her about $150 a month.
Ciccarelli is happy to live without modern conveniences in her remote location. She loves the quiet, the solitude, the crafting she gets done in winter, the slower pace of life, the quirks of a small town. She likes that there’s no cell phone service.
“I tell people to relax and unplug. They seem to like the idea,” she said.
There’s even an old bull bison — wild and not domesticated — who wanders up and down the road, taking advantage of easy walking rather than pushing through heavy snow.
“We call him Jackson,” she said.
But the summer brings tourists and their entertaining questions. Ciccarelli noted the common ones, like when do the deer turn into elk, and a switchup on that question, at what elevation do the deer turn into elk?
She recalled a time when a man asked her in winter where he and his wife could see some bears. She told him they were sleeping. And he asked, ‘They only come out at night?”
“I had to explain they were hibernating,” she laughed.
So what’s her mission in running a tiny shop near the end of the road?
Ciccarelli thought for a second, and then she smiled.
“To make everyone who comes in the door happy,” she said.
You can call Stop the Car Trading Post at (406) 838-2130. Visit the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Stop-The-Car-Trading-Post-140803969285556/
Last week the “plug” had opened for the season. The Plug is about an eight-mile stretch of road from Cooke City towards the Sunlight Basin Road closed in winter due to deep snow. The opening of the plug is a sign of spring that means residents and tourists can drive between Cooke City and Cody, Wyoming. Aside from a very few months in summer when the Beartooth Highway to Red Lodge, Montana is open, the only way in and out of Cooke City is through Mammoth Hot Springs, 51 miles. From Mammoth it’s five miles down the hill to Gardiner, and then 50 miles to the bright lights of Livingston.