Optimism on upswing in Old Town
Merchants group seeks ways to bolster business, add events

       It's already a “banner year” for the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA); Nancy Stovall, entering her second year as OCCA president, is hopeful it will be good for shopping as well.
       The organization, consisting of about 60 business people, is in its 23rd year as a quasi-chamber of commerce for merchants in the historic business district. Stovall has run her shop, the Pine Creek Art Gallery, for 13 of those years.
        The brightly colored banners proclaim “Old Colorado City” from poles at various intersections in and around the shopping area. They are OCCA's chief investment this year in its ongoing effort to fulfill its “main purpose,” according to Stovall: “to support the stores and merchants (and) get people into Old Colorado City.”
       It's no easy task. Year after year, a growing number of corporate-owned retail businesses encircle the historic enclave, many of whose brick buildings date back to the 19th century. Additionally, Stovall admits frustration that so many people elsewhere in town, such as Briargate, “don't know anything about Old Colorado City. It's a constant exercise to get people to know about us.”
       At least there's some good news this spring, with an estimated 10,000 soldiers - all potential shoppers - returning to Fort Carson from Iraq as well as redevelopment starting on Colorado Avenue's 2400 block (north side), which was ravaged in the December 2002 fire, wiping out four retail businesses.
       “Having them (the soldiers) back will definitely help,” said Bernideen Canfield, vice president of OCCA, whose Bernideen's gift shop is on the south side of that block, adding that she is “excited about the buildings across the street being rebuilt.”
       The idea is that an unbroken line of shops helps not only the businesses on that side of the street but the district's merchants in general, according to Canfield, a past OCCA president who has been on the board for eight years.
        Similar to a chamber of commerce in a small town, OCCA members put much of their time and effort into organizing - or helping organize - annual events to attract people to the area.
       One of these is the St. Patrick's Day Parade (March 13 this year), which goes along the avenue between 27th and 17th streets. The parade is organized by a private firm, with cooperation from OCCA.
       “The parade always brings in people,” Stovall said. “Although it's not really a shopping day, the major feeling is that anything that brings people into Old Colorado City who don't normally come here is a good thing.”
        The parade is one of three events each year where the avenue is closed off (the other two are Territory Days and the Good Times Car Show).
       “It's a big thing to have Colorado Avenue closed,” Stovall said. However, she noted, the trade-off usually proves worth it, especially in the case of Territory Days, a three-day event over Memorial Day weekend.
        Territory Days is one of the region's biggest events, in which scores of outside merchants rent booth space from OCCA along the avenue between 24th and 27th streets. In addition, OCCA lines up sponsors willing to help underwrite the event in exchange for putting their name in front of close to 100,000 people.
       Between the vendors and the sponsors, “We get most of our income from Territory Days,” Stovall said. “The majority of the merchants feel it's a very good weekend for them.”
       She added that “some don't do as well, but they understand it's what we need to do to get marketing and advertising.”
       Other annual events set for this year are the Car Show in August (which is organized by a car club group), Scarecrow Days in September, the Safe Treats for young trick-or-treaters on Halloween and the Rocky Mountain Christmas in December.
       That may seem like plenty, but OCCA is open to more. “We're looking for different kinds of events,” Stovall said. The hope is for the “Saturday or Sunday kind,” she said, “ones that have a broad appeal to families.”
        Other self-promotional steps OCCA has taken in recent years is marketing to tour groups through the Convention and Visitors Bureau and creating a web site that identifies all the businesses in Old Colorado City, in a list and on an interactive map.
       “All” is a key word, because, in the interests of continuity, even businesses that are not OCCA members are shown on the web site. However, members do get the added bounce of displaying additional and/or linked information, such as to their own sites.
       “It's part of our membership benefit,” Stovall said. “The web site has been a really good success. We get a lot of hits.”
       Other full-membership benefits include flyer insertions for tour group shopping bags, group advertising promotion discounts, inclusion in the Old Colorado City brochure and a discounted rate for a Territory Days booth.
        Associate members can get in on the advertising discounts, the tour group shopping bags, and the web site links, Stovall said.
       Both the OCCA president and vice president sing the praises of their shopping area. Canfield estimated that “probably two- thirds” of the shops have owners who also work in them. “These are mom-and-pop businesses, not corporations,” she said. “Even Rocky Mountain Chocolates (a chain) - the owners work there.”
       “Old Colorado City has just about everything you want,” Stovall said. “Everything is unique. There's such a variety of stores. It really is wonderful.”

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