Simpich comeback in Old Colorado City
Family’s ‘Showcase’ to revamp building interior for art gallery, doll museum, marionette theater
The Simpich era in Old Colorado City is not over, after all.
Signs on the windows of the former Simpich Character Dolls business at 2413 W. Colorado Ave. herald a multifaceted, second-generation spin-off from the long- popular creative endeavor.
“Simpich Showcase” is the brainstorm of David Simpich, whose parents, Bob and Jan, originated the hand-made character dolls in 1953 and turned the concept into a flourishing cottage industry with 45 employees before they retired and closed the business in early 2007. David, with his wife Debby, had helped with the business, and he had developed a related marionette theater with character dolls of his own creation, which eventually led to their touring the country with the show for the past 15 years.
As part of their retirement, Bob and Jan tried to sell the roughly 11,000-square-foot, two-story space that they had transformed into a design and manufacturing facility. But as the months passed, solid offers remained elusive. “No one had a vision for the whole building,” David explained.
And then last September, he got a vision of his own - one that would tie together the public's lasting affection for Simpich dolls, his own puppeteer talents and his parents' love of painting.
The concept is just now starting to take physical form. A “huge remodel” will be required, David said. The work will technically involve two buildings - all of 2413 W. Colorado Ave. and the rear part of 2411 behind the Holly Berry House store. There also will be a need to synchronize with a developer who will be buying the second floor (about half of the 11,000 square feet) and subdividing it into four residences. (See story, this page.)
This fall is the earliest expectation for a Simpich Showcase opening. Even if delays occur, David is hopeful for Christmas, at least.
Although his parents will be involved, David and Debby are the main movers on the plan. He will focus primarily on the theater, while Debby, who assists him with the preparations for his shows, will floor-manage the Showcase as a whole.
Here are capsule descriptions of the enterprise's three main elements:
Art gallery - Located in the area people first see when they come in from the sidewalk, the gallery will feature the paintings of Bob and Jan Simpich, and up to a dozen artists in all. The former art director for District 11, Bob has been especially busy with his paintbrush in retirement, creating a mural for the new Penrose Hospital.
Museum - This area will be located behind the gallery, in what was once a doll-manufacturing room. For an admission fee, visitors will be able to tour the museum and see displays of the Simpich dolls through the years, including one-of-a-kind creations from years past, some in dioramas.
“The Simpich dolls are part of the history of the Pikes Peak area,” Debby said.
The museum area also will have space for what David termed a “secondary market” for the dolls. Although the Internet's E-Bay website has proved popular in this regard, having an in-house consignment capability will help people who aren't comfortable with the Internet or who prefer to physically see the dolls, he pointed out.
He reminded everyone that “nothing is being manufactured here anymore. This will be a memorabilia place.”
Marionette theater - The plan calls for establishing the theater in its one-time space in the rear of the building, just east of the new museum area. The idea is to make it about the same size as it was before. The seating maximum of 70 people will make it “more intimate,” said David, who is the sole writer and performer. “No one will feel far away. It will keep the live aspect of theater.” On tours, he's worked the opposite way. “I've had places where my puppets were projected onto large screens,” he recalled, adding that the experience felt a little distant.
In terms of repertoire, he is more prepared than in the '80s, when the theater was just getting started. Back then, David had to first write the scripts, hand-make the characters and work out the performance nuances. He estimated that each show took about a year to get ready for audiences. Now, he has ready a total of 16 shows, including his original versions of “The Secret Garden,” “Hans Christian Andersen Storybook,” “Great Expectations” and “A Christmas Carol.”
His plan is to present about 5 different shows a year - one for each season, plus Christmas.
He expressed excitement about the new enterprise. One key reason is the chance to continue the Simpich tradition, in a way that seems financially feasible. When his parents decided to retire, and there were lines of people in the street, hoping to buy certain doll types before they were gone, “People asked, 'Why can't you carry it on?''' David said. The frustrating reality was that the hand-made doll business was becoming increasingly less affordable. His parents preferred to let Simpich Character Dolls fold rather than sell it to a company that would have immediately moved it overseas, he said.
The new arrangement also will provide opportunities for a third generation of Simpiches. David and Debby have four children (Kemper, Elisabeth, Gwendolyn and Toby), between the ages of 10 and 20, all of whom were home-schooled. “I'm suspecting that they will all be helping in one way or another,” David commented.
Westside Pioneer article