Clark It's hard to drive through North Routt County without being drawn to the Clark Store. For many people, it's the ice cream that does it.
Seeing the deck full of people licking cones or digging into cups with a rural Rocky Mountain backdrop can be too much to resist.
One July the store sold $10,000 worth of the frozen treat, store manager Susan Saari said.
But there is much more to the little store in the hamlet of Clark than ice cream.
Ever since homesteaders Rufus and Emily Clark's ranch became a stop for stages going to and from the mining community of Hahn's Peak in the late 1880s, the Clark Store has been an integral part of the rural culture in North Routt County.
The original store on the Clark ranch, and the post office within it, was just a small building with supplies. But it marked the beginning of the town's existence. Since then, it's moved to several locations, has had around 14 owners, a couple of name changes, burned to the ground in the late '60s and was rebuilt again.
But the store is still much like it was when it started, historian Kathy Main said.
Main lives in Clark and wrote a book documenting the history and the early residents of the area.
"It was the hub of the community," she said. "And it still is."
The rural setting of the Clark Store has allowed it to endure while convenient stores and corporate grocery chains have swallowed similar businesses in more urban areas.
In surviving, the store acts as a rare cultural connection to the past, she said.
The past of Clark is a fully self-contained ranching community.
"People worked here, went to school here, went to church here and shopped at the store," Main said.
The store had everything people needed, and maybe most importantly, it was a place to chat and hear the local news.
"You've got to know, half of what was going on was socializing," Main said.
Though many of the residents in the area today commute to Steamboat Springs for work, the Clark Store still functions for the residents the same way it did in the past.
Locals make frequent visits to the store for many different reasons, one of the biggest ones being the feeling of community there.
"They are always just so accommodating," local resident Jan Vail said.
"There's always lots of smiles."
Saari said she makes sure everyone feels at home in the store.
"It's important that people feel that way. I'm a believer that we must have fun when we work," she said.
Saari runs the store for the Stranahan family, who own the Home Ranch in North Routt where they live part of the time. Her job is to keeps things the way they have been for years.
The store offers just about everything someone needs, just like it always has.
The 800-square-foot business has a liquor store, a deli and a bakery. It sells groceries and gas, rents videos and houses a small library.
Local events are announced on the bulletin board there, from babies being born to community meetings.
The store also employs around 20 people, which includes local children scooping ice cream.
"Everybody who lives up here sooner or later works at the Clark Store," employee Lynn McDowell said.
There's also the post office, where 1,000 people receive mail.
"They are wonderful people," Postmaster Barbara Hodges said. "Very nice, good American people it's also a diverse group."
One change in Clark is the increase in land prices and some growth. Hodges said the result of that makes store a place where the wealthy, second-home owners are mingling with the longtime locals, making the crowd at store a little diverse.
Another change is tourism. The Clark Store is packed in the summertime with campers, bikers, hikers and anyone else retreating to the Routt National Forest, which surrounds Clark. While the store still is essential for locals in the community, tourism pays many of the bills in the summertime.
Saari said it's a 50-50 split of county residents and tourists.
"Then there are the people who just drive up for the ice cream," Saari said.
There's a rumor they make it right there at the store.
"The truth is," Saari said honestly, "we don't. We buy high-quality ice cream."