Wilson residents have joined forces to acquire and preserve the landmark Hungry Jack’s General Store at the base of Teton Pass, a 69-year-old grocery dripping with the tools, toys and talismans of rustic days gone by.
A handful of community leaders launched the collective late last year, selling millions of dollars in memberships to buy the building and property from Jana Stearns. She ran Hungry Jack’s for 34 years, after buying the business from her parents who launched it in 1954.
For more than six decades, Wilson folk found food, community and rugged wear in the rustic cabin where canoes hung from the ceiling above rows of canned goods, staples and newspapers — more than what you’d need for a wilderness trip or a week at home. It closed for remodeling Feb. 17.
Dorothy “Dodie” and husband Clarence “Stearnie” Stearns met while working in Yellowstone in the 1940s. A Minnesota native, Stearnie flew a B-17 in World War II, piloting it on 25 and 1/2 missions before he was shot down in flames during a raid over Schweinfurt, Germany.
After 13 months as a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft I, he returned to Wyoming where he and Dodie began the Wilson Market. They bought the lot across Highway 22 and built Hungry Jack’s there in 1960. The hardscrabble couple raised a family of four wise-in-the-wilderness kids on “a lot of brown meat and wrinkled produce,” their daughter Jana wrote in a short history.
Stearnie died in 2015 at 94 and Dodie in 2019 at 95.
“My intention from the beginning was that I would be responsible to Jackson Hole in my decision,” Jana Stearns said Wednesday. “My goal was that Wilson would continue to have a grocery store.”
Wilson businesswoman Anise Morrow had researched community-owned businesses before Hungry Jack’s came on the market last year, her husband Marc Hirschfield said. They, and others, felt the model offered an innovative way to preserve the icon while making it viable today.
Hungry Jack’s lot is in the epicenter of “some of the most expensive real estate in the United States,” Hirschfield said. That puts a lot of financial pressure on the hamlet’s keystone edifices — the Stagecoach Bar, Nora’s Fish Creek Inn and the Hardeman Barn — and makes it tougher for the village to retain an essence of Wyoming.
“We banded together [as] an ad-hoc group,” Hirschfield said. The goal was to secure $4.5 million from a small group of well-heeled investors and then more from a larger group of rank-and-file members. The Hungry Jack’s group offered up to 300 memberships for $25,000 each and quickly secured hundreds of interest notes and more than 100 commitments.
On Jan. 14 Jana Camille Stearns sold Lot 3 of the Stearns Family Subdivision to the Hungry Jacks Company, including the 4,160 square-foot building, 0.88 acres of commercial property and an iconic 60-foot storefront on a busy highway. In classic legalese, the deed states she got $10 “and other good and valuable consideration.”
Along with the land and building went “the tenements, hereditaments, appurtenances, and improvements,” a patina of history.
Hirschfield said he looks forward to seeing a place where “our kids can get ice cream and sit on the porch.” Jana Stearns has artistic, hiking and skiing pursuits ahead.
“It was very much an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve the Wilson community,” she said.