This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
By Wes Smalling
Posted: 11:18 AM- EVANSTON, Wyo. - It's 11:45 a.m. and the temperature is already climbing into the 90s. A stiff wind whips the line of flags atop the huge building that is Porter's Fireworks and Liquor.
Porter's is one of a few huge liquor stores and fireworks vendors here at the first Wyoming exit off Interstate 80, only a few miles from the Utah state line.
Two older couples in their 60s come out of Porter's Liquor Store, each with their arms loaded with all the cases of beer and brown bags full of booze bottles they can carry.
Smiling like teenagers getting away with something they're not supposed to do, they pile into a large SUV with Utah plates, drive onto the Interstate and head back toward Utah.
It's a common sight here in Evanston. Visitors from the Beehive State love to come to this border town. Some may come for the scenery or because it's a gateway to the Uinta Mountains. But for many the attractions in Evanston are booze, fireworks and gambling _ all taboo in Utah.
Evanston, population 11,507, sits in the southwest corner of Wyoming a little over an hour's drive from Salt Lake City. The town is dissected by the coast-to-coast freeway of Interstate 80, so most of the people who stop in Evanston don't stay long. For some it's a place to stop and get gas, a motel room or a bite to eat.
But Utahans come to Evanston because, in a way, this is Wyoming's Sin City.
"Evanston is the root of all Utah evil," says John Porter, owner of Porter's Fireworks and Liquor, and head of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce. "That's the way Utahans think of it anyway."
To Porter, and most other Evanston residents, there's nothing really sinful about the place. It's just a nice small town. But because of Utah's stringent alcohol laws and Evanston's proximity to Utah, the town has an outlaw reputation for being the place where you can get anything you want.
The town's official slogan, "Fresh Air, freedom and fun," is a dead giveaway of how local businesses try to attract people from Salt Lake City. "Fresh air" is an obvious dig at Salt Lake's smog. "Freedom and fun" is a promise of sorts that what you can't get in Utah, you'll find here in Evanston.
"Ninety percent of it is a myth. It's not so much about coming to Wyoming. It's about getting away from Utah," Porter says.
What many people don't realize, Porter said, is that you can buy fireworks in Utah, except aerials and some of the bigger pyrotechnics.
Those are illegal in several states but legal in Wyoming. M-80s, cherry bombs and other explosive types of fireworks are not for sale here though. Those are illegal nationwide. Still, Porter gets phone calls every day from Utahans asking how much cherry bombs cost.
"There's a myth that you can get anything in Wyoming," Porter says. "We like that myth of being viewed as an outlaw town. I wouldn't say we're an outlaw town but that's how Utahans see us. The business we built in Evanston is based on that myth."
The myth is good for business.
Porter's Fireworks and Liquor is no ordinary roadside fireworks stand. Boxes and boxes of almost every pyrotechnic imaginable are stacked from the floor to the roof of the giant warehouse of a building. Some boxed sets cost as much as $1,200.
Porter's has stood for 50 years and other fireworks megastores have popped up on the same block. Relatively new to the neighborhood is a triple-X adult store, located across the Interstate from Porter's. Its big sign advertises its novelties and videos for passers by on the freeway.
"It's a dirty little secret but they have them in Utah too," Porter says about the porn shop.
The adult store is located next door to a "family restaurant," which has a lounge and liquor store in back.
Evanston has the closest liquor stores to Salt Lake City that aren't owned and operated by the Utah state government and the nearest bars that don't require club memberships.
In Utah, you can't buy Bud Light with an alcohol content above 3.2 percent because it's distributed by the state, although you can usually find other brands of beer with normal alcohol content of about 5 percent.
"People just don't know where to look and the state (of Utah) doesn't advertise where to find it," Porter says.
Kegs are illegal in Utah. For years the Utah Highway Patrol used to sit at the Utah state line waiting to nab people with Utah plates returning from Wyoming to confiscate their kegs and fireworks.
These days they might take your so-called contraband if they pull you over for speeding, but for the most part, Porter said, Utah police have backed off stalking the Interstate for kegs and fireworks because of conflicts with federal laws.
Although it isn't technically illegal for someone from Utah to buy booze in Wyoming, it somehow feels like you're getting away with something when you make a run for the border.
Maybe that's what makes Evanston so popular with Utahans. That's part of the fun of having a vice _ the feeling of getting away with doing something bad.
Evanston may be Wyoming's Sin City but it's no Las Vegas. You won't find bright lights and supermega-hotels. Evanston is mostly a small, friendly town with clean, tree-lined streets.
Despite the Super Wal-Mart at the edge of town, downtown Evanston and its small shops along Main Street are hanging on. They're quite busy, actually, for a small town on a Friday night.
Sadly, downtown Evanston lost its vintage movie theater to a fire earlier this year. The blackened, gutted facade of the old theater was still standing on Main Street, barely. Scrawled in spray paint across the lobby entrance, partially covered by a for sale sign, are the words, "Please save me."
Next door to the theater, locals pour into Suds Brothers Brewery. On Friday night, the joint is jumpin'.
Absent from the bustling brew pub is the smell of smoke. Evanston is one of three Wyoming cities to stomp out that particular sin.
"Business has been extremely good," says Travis Martinez, filling a pint glass behind the bar. Martinez, co-owner of Suds Brothers Brewing, grew up in Evanston. After moving to Kingston, Ariz., he missed the place so much he moved back.
"The people around here are great. I didn't realize that until I moved away. I'd never been so homesick."
"The horses have reached the starting gate," the announcer's voice rings over the loudspeakers in the crowded clubhouse of Wyoming Downs.
It's a busy Saturday afternoon at the track and the lines are long to place a bet. There's also a long line for drinks at The Finish Line Bar.
A man steps up to order a cocktail, looking at the wall of bottles and line of beer taps.
"We're not in Utah anymore," he says to his companions. "How about a "Sex on the Beach"?"
According to racetrack officials, 80 percent of Wyoming Downs patrons are from Utah. The parking lot is filled with cars with Utah plates.
Today, a few dozen shiny Corvettes are parked right in front. Forty two members of the Utah Corvette Club made the drive from the Salt Lake City area to spend a day at the races.
"It's just a great way to spend a Saturday," says Liliane Hoefnagel of Sandy, Utah. "Even though my horse didn't win."
Utah has horse racing, but you can't bet on the ponies there. Gambling is illegal in Utah.
To Terri Fitzsimmons of Salt Lake City, Evanston isn't so much about alcohol and other things that are taboo in Utah. It's just a nice town to visit.
"It used to be the place you went for liquor and hoped you made it across the border without being followed," she says. "I think the perception of Evanston has changed in recent years. It's a beautiful place. The drive here is just gorgeous."
Fitzsimmons, who is director of a health and wellness program for St. Mark's Hospital in Salt Lake City, led an outing of mostly senior citizens to Wyoming Downs for the day.
So why do Utahans like coming to Evanston? The question was put to two senior citizens from the hospital group: Colleen Dalton, 65, and Verl Fitzsimmons, 78.
"Fireworks and booze," Dalton says, with a giggle.
"You can't say just the bad things," Fitzsimmons tells her. "You gotta talk about the good things too."
"What's bad about that?" Dalton says. "I think it's a good thing."