WOMEN YOU SHOULD KNOW IN WYOMING: Reviving and Reimagining a Greybull Relic

DIY handywoman gives 20-unit historic motel in downtown Greybull a modern update

Amanda McGrew, 36, is single-handedly renovating the K-Bar Motel in downtown Greybull. She's giving it a new look and a future with both vacation rentals and affordable housing units. (Courtesy photo from Amanda McGrew)

By Melissa Thomasma

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Longtime residents of Greybull have driven past the K-Bar Motel since it was first built in 1949. In recent years, it wasn’t much to look at. But now, for the first time in decades, it’s starting to look a little different, and that’s largely thanks to one person: Amanda McGrew.

A 36-year old Santa Monica, California native, McGrew had never set foot in Greybull before embarking on a full-scale revitalization of the downtown motel. Today, she’s on a first-name basis with the staff at the local Ace Hardware.

McGrew’s adventures in do-it-yourself renovation and vacation rental management began in 2021, when she left her job as a physical education teacher and basketball coach in Los Angeles and followed her entrepreneurial spirit to Phoenix, Arizona. With financial backing from her parents, she purchased a house and undertook a six-month remodeling project, turning it into a successful vacation rental.

Upon returning to California, McGrew continued to hone her DIY design and remodeling skills through hands-on experience and online learning.

“Basically for an entire year, I was doing DIY and home renovation projects for hire, and it became this sweet little niche,” she said, noting the projects were either too creative or design-focused for a handyman, but too small for a contractor.

McGrew’s new business provided more income than her teaching job, and when her Missoula-based friend Kyle Black, 32, suggested they partner up to buy a renovation-worthy property in Wyoming, McGrew leapt at the opportunity.

In late December, Black, who takes on similar solo renovation projects in Montana, was perusing online for a property that might fit their budget and vision.

“Once this one popped up, it was like, are you kidding me?” McGrew told the Wyoming Truth.

The first of the 20 units was launched on Airbnb on July 1, showcasing McGrew’s creative design skills and her vision for an updated Western vibe. (Courtesy photo from Amanda McGrew)

She had visited parts of Wyoming on a road trip a few years earlier and felt drawn to the wild beauty and small-town vibe of so many communities.

The 20-unit K-Bar Motel was listed for $250,000—a price tag low enough that it provoked some uncertainty.

“It kind of made us nervous about what kind of shape it would be in or what we were actually walking into,” McGrew said. 

McGrew and Black secured a traditional commercial mortgage loan through Pinnacle Bank to purchase the property. By late March, she had relocated from Los Angeles to Greybull and immediately got her hands dirty.

“When I got there, [the property] was old and it’s dingy, but it’s not crumbling and falling apart; it could have been significantly worse,” she said. “There definitely would need to be a little bit more to scare me away.”

McGrew has cultivated an enthusiastic following on TikTok and Instagram as she documents  her daily renovation journey. Often clad in overalls and boots, she shares her triumphs and challenges with dedicated followers. 

The biggest challenge so far, McGrew said, has been chasing down leaks that caused water damage. “We definitely knew that the plumbing was not in fantastic shape; the building was not winterized the way it probably should have been,” she said. “Throughout the first couple of months of me being there, I was able to find probably six or seven different leaks.”

Some of these leaks were small enough for McGrew to patch herself – she is determined to complete as much of the project as possible on her own — but a few required calling in a professional.

New lease on life

McGrew’s vision isn’t simply to refurbish the K-Bar into former glory. She plans to split the units between Airbnb-style vacation rentals and affordable long-term units to house local workers. To date, McGrew has invested around $20,000 in renovation and furnishing costs to complete and launch the first vacation rental unit via Airbnb on July 1.

The design vibe is what McGrew has termed “updated Western,” as she incorporates textures, patterns and other elements that showcase the Wyoming character of the property, but with a bold contemporary twist. Each unit will have its own distinct character.

“It will certainly be Western, but not full log cabin style,” she said.  There will still be tons of wood elements, tons of warmth and texture and things like that with a little bit of an updated twist.”

The first unit showcases black wallpaper — a choice that some of her local supporters greeted with surprise and a dash of concern. “Most of the people in town who I was telling that I was going to have a black wallpaper, they looked at me like, ‘Are you out of your freaking mind?’ And I was like, ‘Just give it a chance!’”

The property will be graced with a new name, too: Big Horn Flats.

With business partner Kyle Black, McGrew purchased the 20-unit motel in Greybull in March  2023. (Courtesy photo from Amanda McGrew)

“I wanted to make sure I did quite a bit of research in terms of talking to people locally about what they knew about the name,” McGrew said, “and if it had any strong significance or legacy, I would have absolutely kept it. But by and large, it sounded like it was just a name that somebody came up with that they thought was cool.”

Robyn Brown, 46, one of McGrew’s first acquaintances in Greybull, is a proponent of the project and one of the first tenants. “When she told me what her vision was, I was 100% behind her,” said Brown, who has lived in the area on and off for 40 years.

Like most communities across the state, inflation and rising prices have made life challenging for many in Greybull. Brown, who works as a preschool teacher’s aide and part time as a bartender at a local watering hole, has felt the financial crunch.

When McGrew offered her one of the still-unrenovated units, she immediately accepted.

“Trying to afford a place is tough, and then still trying to have a life after that?” Brown said.

A warm welcome

Brown said that while newcomers to town can be greeted with something of a side-eye — especially those from California — McGrew instantly fit in. “She’s a very positive and outgoing person, and it’s been a huge advantage for her,” Brown said. “People randomly stop by, folks who grew up here, who live in the small town and know everybody, and they have such positive remarks on what she’s doing.”

For her part, McGrew has worked to build connections with her new neighbors, reinforcing her promise to avoid inflicting something unwanted on the community.

“I think people are excited to see something new,” said McGrew. “I was very obviously wary of the whole ‘Don’t California Our Cody’ sentiment.”

As subsequent units are completed, they’ll be added to the vacation rental roster, welcoming guests into uniquely Wyoming accommodations. While the timeline isn’t precise — due to unforeseen surprises like water leaks and electrical wiring quirks — McGrew’s momentum isn’t wavering.

“I feel like each step of the way has provided me with an opportunity to learn something I didn’t know before,” she said.

In fact, McGrew sees remodeling the K-Bar Motel as nothing short of “the most grand adventure ever.”

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