SOUTH OGDEN, Utah (ABC4) – Gandy Dancer Mercantile is a staple in South Ogden. Known for its sweet treats and old-fashioned ice cream shop feel, it’s a place for families to spend time together. A recent makeover has made the family-friendly shop a place for parents to have open, honest conversations with their children about substance use. Local city leaders and the Bonneville Communities that Care coalition say this is needed now more than ever as substance use among youth in Weber and Morgan counties exceeds state averages.  

“We hadn’t been here yet and I thought, ‘Okay, we’re going to come down sometime this week and check it out for sure,’” Nicole McGarry told ABC4. McGarry is a South Ogden resident and mother of three. Her eldest child is 15 years old. She said she always wanted to bring her kids to the Gandy Dancer Mercantile and is even more excited to do so now.  

“I think we’ll keep having these conversations and when things happen, if they happen, we’ll work through that but we’re going to do all we can so that it doesn’t,” McGarry stated.   

The tables and walls at the shop now have QR codes that give parents tips on how to recognize substance use and how to talk about it. Other QR codes turn a teen’s phone into an interactive camera they can use to scan images to find hidden messages about the dangers of substances within those images.  

“As a city, we’ve allowed these advertisements, these information things to go out at our parks, we have wraps on our backstops at baseball games, on the bathrooms in the parks,” South Ogden Mayor Russ Porter stated. He explained that the makeover at the store is just one part of a large effort with Bonneville Communities that Care to address a serious issue the communities within Weber and Morgan counties are currently facing.  

“We’re just trying to get the conversations going whether that’s between parents and their kids about alcohol use,” Ported said. He told ABC4 that as mayor and a teacher, he was surprised to learn about how prevalent substance use is among children and teens in the area. However, he said that he is also proud to know that most children continue to avoid things like alcohol, vaping products and marijuana.  

According to the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, 14 percent of students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 have consumed alcohol at some time in their life. In Weber and Morgan counties, it’s closer to 20 percent. This data comes from the Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) statewide survey which is conducted every couple of years in schools.  

Statewide, nearly 10 percent of students have used marijuana while it’s closer to 13 percent in the two counties. Fifteen percent of Utah students have vaped at some point in their life. That rate is over 20 percent in the two counties.  

In many substance categories, 12th graders in Weber and Morgan counties used substances at nearly double the rate of their 12th grade peers statewide.   

“If they get set up for addiction, especially at an early age, they can end up struggling with that for years and years down the road,” Braden Mitchell stated. Mitchell is the mayor of Riverdale. He is also a pharmacist. As a pharmacist, he said he’s seen first-hand how substances and opioids, in particular, can ruin lives.   

“It actually impacted me in my own family,” he said. “Not necessarily with my kids, but in my own family. Looking back, all the signs were there, and I didn’t really even see them.” He told ABC4 that the family was lucky to get the problem taken care of before it turned deadly. However, he emphasized that in many cases, families aren’t so lucky.  

He encouraged parents to learn more about the signs of substance use, to have safe storage for any prescriptions kept in the home and to speak openly with their children about substances and their expectations. “Sometimes parents think it’s just implied that oh my kid knows I don’t want them to drink, or I don’t want them to use opioids, or vape, but I think being especially clear and just letting them hear you say it.”  

Statewide, prescription misuse among students remains lower than most other categories. It is currently around five percent.