Shelley Kinnison is what electricity would look like if electricity had great hair and a cheeky smile. She is a whirling dervish of boundless energy, and an entrepreneur of near-limitless passion for Sheridan. Some folk like to say that they’re busy, and that they’ll rest when they’re dead. Most of those folk look lazy by comparison.
It takes an iron will and a graphite constitution to plan an event for 5,000 people. It takes a touch of madness to plan that event on your own front lawn. But that’s exactly what Shelley has done with the Born in a Barn creative trade show; once a year, the pastoral parcel she shares with her husband, Brian, becomes a spreading ground for artists and artisans, crafts folk, musicians, and entrepreneurs. In the market for rustic home goods or fine china illustrated in a cowboy motif? How about stunning antique furniture, or vintage signage? Shelley’s got all that, and a bag of chips. There’s jewelry, food, clothes and music, pots and pottery and plants, and a family-friendly atmosphere that nods to the very nature of visiting Sheridan, Wyoming.
This little craft fair is a big deal in Sheridan. Vendors – more than 75 of them – come from across the nation to set up shop, while a quick audit of parking lot plates reveals that visitors from Minnesota, Illinois, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, and many other states, have a penchant for trading in upmarket country curious. The economic impact on the community is sizable – these visitors stay, they spend, and they sleep. But it’s not the dollars and cents that necessarily mean the most to Shelley; the service of creating a community event is itself the most meaningful part of this endeavor.
For these reasons and more, entrepreneur Shelley Kinnison is one of our Women of Sheridan, Wyo. for 2019.
Sheridan Travel & Tourism’s Shawn Parker sat down with Shelley to discuss her passion for Sheridan, and what it’s like to host one of the community’s signature events.
SHAWN: The Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT) is calling 2019 the “Year of Wyoming Women,” as the state celebrates the 150th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage. On December 10, 1869, Wyoming Territory passed the first law in United States history granting women the right to vote and hold public office – more than 50 years prior to the U.S. ratification of the 19th amendment. What does it mean to be a woman in Wyoming in 2019?
I think it says something about the progressive and daring nature of our state and the people who choose to reside here. Wyoming is definitely a choice. It’s not always easy, we are very remote compared to the rest of the United States, but it is a price we are willing to pay. I can get on a plane and be in a highly populated city in a matter of hours, but nothing compares to the peace and solitude of our vast state. I breathe better when I cross the Wyoming border, the air is cleaner, the traffic non-existent and the sky is brighter! I feel like women in our state are treated as equals – they had to be, since there weren’t enough men to get ‘er done!
SHAWN: Tell me about your background; who is Shelley Kinnison, where does she comes from. How long have you lived in Sheridan?
I’ve lived in Sheridan since I was in the 8th grade. My Dad chose Wyoming and applied for a job as Principal at the High School. So High School wasn’t easy for me, but I chose to return here after college and dipping my toes into Colorado and Montana. I got a degree in marketing and sold advertising locally for 8 years at Sheridan Media. I chose to stay home when my daughters came along, but I still had my hand in some fun things. When my Dad was Mayor (his second career) I started the Farmers Market for him on Grinnell. I sat on the board of Family Planning and started the Pink Flamingo fund raiser. Sales and promotion was always my favorite thing, it’s tricky and creative and when it’s right it is amazing!
SHAWN: Why Wyoming? How does Wyoming feature in your life – not only from a professional standpoint, but as a place to live and play?
I LOVE WYOMING, but I love Sheridan the most! I love going places and being the ONLY one from Wyoming. And I truly enjoy sharing our little slice of heaven. From a professional standpoint, what I have created has succeeded against all odds, but it has worked out beautifully. Personally, my family is here, it has been a huge blessing to raise our girls with family and friends. I never wanted to house hop, or move to other places, home is home and I always wanted it to be here. But what I love the most is our community. I went downtown today on a quick errand and got to see three people I haven’t seen in ages, and we talked, laughed, quick hug and I was off. My quick errand took me 2 hours but who cares. Anonymity was never something I desired; I love connection!
SHAWN: Talk to us about Born in a Barn. Where did the idea come from, and what did it take to get it off the ground?
Oh man, it came from desperation! Before making my debut on Highway 14, we lived in a historic home on Loucks Street, super busy traffic, big front porch and I loved having people stop by when I was on the porch and I was on it a lot! The opportunity to buy this historic ranch presented itself and I didn’t want to go. No way, no sir, no thanks. But my husband did, and the kids did. I came, kicking and screaming, and not being very nice to my husband. To the point, he said, go get a house in town, I can’t live with you like this. I stayed up that whole night and did a deep dive and truly asked, why am I here, what am I supposed to do out here? Pretty quickly the answers came, and I decided to host my first Born in a Barn. Just me and six others. Through careful planning and dogged determination, it has grown to be an event, hosting 80 vendors, and between five and seven thousand guests through the gate.
SHAWN: What keeps you passionate about running an event of this size and scale? Born in a Barn features a huge number of vendors, and welcomes roughly 5,000 people through the gate each year – what keeps you motivated to manage something this big?
If you can’t tell, I have fallen in love with this acreage we have been blessed with in this lifetime and it is my pleasure to share it once a year with amazing vendors and guests. I’m a firm believer in giving back to this community that has been a joy to be a part of. And it doesn’t have to be financial; you can give back to your community in so many ways, like hosting an event. We host weddings, reunions, anniversaries and even funerals out here. It is a place to connect. Motivation is easy. So many people, so happy, music, great food, amazing shopping, thousands of dollars pouring into Sheridan. We’ve also joined ranks with the Welch Cancer Center and our Mimosas for Mammograms is a huge hit! Last year we raised $3,500 for free mammograms and after care! That’s a lot of mimosas! It’s all good and I wouldn’t miss it for anything. And the kids, my girls, their friends, the barn boys, they are all growing up, going to college, graduating, taking jobs, and they all want to come home and help at Born in a Barn. That in itself is enough for me.
SHAWN: Born in a Barn Afterhours is new for 2019 – what’s this all about?
I’m so excited for this! People are making BIAB a destination weekend trip, so I wanted to have a little somethin’ somethin’ for them to do on Friday night (and since my vendors are always busy when the music is playing, this is for them too). Plus, my musicians are here overnight, so I decided to host a meet and greet! I chose to have Luminous and No Name Bar host the Afterhours, because they are my people! So, I asked my musicians to do a set together and bring their merch so the vendors can come, so people who may have been shopping can come, to encourage out of towners to spend the night. Each venue will have fresh food trucks, because I only have so much room for food and I feel horrible that everyone doesn’t get a shot at my audience! This year we have Tris Munsick, Justin Beasley, Kalyn Beasley (yes, they are related) and Adrianne Brannan (Buckaroo Girl). Tris and Kalyn will be at No Name, Adrianne and Justin will be a Luminous. It will be an informal fun jam and a chance to meet the artists.
SHAWN: Where does your entrepreneurial spirit come from?
My husband says I am unemployable. And he is right. Going somewhere from 8 to 5 is so not my jam. Enclosed space, nah. My Mom said when I was a Girl Scout and it came to be cookie time, it was game on! I just love the challenge of creating something from nothing. From Real Estate Rehab (estate sales) to Born in a Barn, I started it with no initial investment, and I built it with hard work.
SHAWN: You’re from a civic-minded family that’s long been engaged in work that benefits the community. Is this spirit of service something that comes naturally?
It must. My Dad has served this community in many capacities from principal at the High School to Mayor. My Mom too, she started a thrift store for her church with nothing but donations and it is still thriving today. So, they definitely showed me that service is a great way to live. The magazine, Where Women Create, did an article about Born in a Barn and my home in 2014 and they asked for my favorite quote. It is from Wayne Dyer, “Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life.” I have a very abundant life!
SHAWN: It seems like there’s a major event in Sheridan every week. Why do you think Sheridan has had success in hosting events and attractions in recent years?
Are you kidding?? If I didn’t live here, I would love to come here and be a tourist. Our main street is amazing, nothing is cookie cutter here, it is one of a kind. There isn’t a chain on every corner. There is still opportunity for individuality and success. Look at King’s Saddlery, Big Horn Design, Twin M, Western Grace, The Union at the Montgomery, Twisted Hearts, Birch, Big Horn Pizza, and my Born in a Barn vendors, this list is HUGE and all very unique to Sheridan. Entrepreneurs are encouraged to flourish here!
SHAWN: What’s on the horizon for you in 2019 and 2020?
Not much… just kidding!! Who knows! If Afterhours is a hit, let’s add more! I want other businesses to join on the Born in a Barn bandwagon and make it impossible to NOT stay the night (or two nights) and do more! We’ve got the event, now let’s plant more seeds! I’m trying to figure out something for your Skijorning event – I want a piece of that action!
To learn more about Born in a Barn, visit www.borninabarnwyo.com
Click here for WYLD West: The Podcast, to hear Shelley’s episode.
Portrait of Shelley Kinnison courtesy of Mindy Wilson.