Westside postcard company hangs tough despite modern technology changing vacationers’ habits
H.W. Stewart is a name that's been known around the Pikes Peak region for decades. It was the family-owned business that ran the concessions at the Pikes Peak's Summit House and Glen Cove until 1992 and at the Garden of the Gods' Hidden Inn until '95.
A lesser known Stewart-owned company is Cooper Postcards. The Westside card-and-gift distributor has operated at the same location since 1968, warehousing items from its suppliers and finding retail stores to sell them in. Back then, the small building was all by itself in the 31st Street business-industrial area south of Highway 24, according to its manager, Valerie Doyle, who has been with Stewart since '67.
Her boss, Bill Carle - contacted by phone at the Buffalo Bill Museum's gift shop on top of Lookout Mountain outside Golden - elaborated that the postcard company had been started before World War II. Its namesake was a man in Lakewood named John Cooper. The Stewart family (led then by Helen Stewart) liked his postcards, and after he died around 1960 she bought the Cooper company to keep it from shutting down. At the time, most of the H.W. Stewart concessions were in the Pikes Peak region, so it made sense to move the Cooper office/distributorship here in '68, explained Carle, whose father (now deceased, also named Bill) had by that time married Helen's daughter Barbara and become the family business' general manager.
H.W. Stewart bought the property, including the building, at 529 S. 31st Street. It previously had been Prather Welding, Carle said.
Back then, people on vacations typically sent postcards to friends and family. But nowadays, with cell phones and online messaging capabilities, “I don't think kids know how to lick a stamp, let alone send a card,” Carle said.
Another part of the Cooper business that's suffered from modern technology is camera film. Selling rolls to tourists used to be an even bigger money-maker than cards. Digital cameras changed that.
Still, there are no plans to shut Cooper down. After 45 years, Valerie Doyle is a trusted manager - “part of the family,” to use Carle's words - and company bookkeeper. It's also a plus that H.W. Stewart owns the 31st Street property outright.
It's also inaccurate to imply that there's no tourist market at all. As might be expected, Cooper's postcards and various gift items (such as key chains, kitchen magnets, bumper stickers and coffee mugs) are sold at the remaining Stewart-owned concession locales: Echo Lake (on the road to Mount Evans, near Idaho Springs), Estes Park (just outside Rocky Mountain National Park) and the Buffalo Bill Museum. Area sites carrying Cooper products include the Garden of the Gods Trading Post, North Pole, Royal Gorge and various area retail shops
“We're hanging in there, but the market has shrunk,” Carle conceded.
Valerie Doyle's employment with Stewart began in 1967, working at the Summit House when she was 17 years old. She continued to work there in the summers during her four years at a New York college. In the years since, she's worked or filled in at most of the Stewart locations, with her longest service having been on the Peak for 19 seasons.
Another H.W. Stewart site for Doyle was the Hidden Inn. “I feel so lucky to have worked there,” she said. “You'd see the sunrise, and the rocks just starting to lighten up.”
City Parks decided to remove the Hidden Inn as part of a mid-'90s master plan update to reduce traffic in the central Garden area. Doyle wishes the building could have stayed, at least as an interpretive center, because it seemed to fit so well into the rocks.
Pikes Peak holds her fondest memories. She remembers the older Bill Carle as a man who loved making the legendary Summit House doughnuts and in general devoted himself to serving the Peak's visitors. It seemed as if he made supply trips down the mountain every day, returning from the city with his Suburban “crammed with things,” Doyle recalled.
She liked the speech he'd give to his summer help, telling them that out of everyone in the country they were the only ones to get to live on a mountain all summer. He also told them to keep in mind that “we have nothing anybody needs.” Thus, he said, employees should help customers feel good about being there so that they'd buy things they wanted.
An individual touch at the Carle-run Summit House was a postcard that said “I made it! Pikes Peak, Colorado,” which Doyle and others at the store would stamp with the day's date, so people buying the card would have a keepsake of having driven up the mountain or ridden up on the Cog Railway.
The Bill Carles (older and younger) would even help drivers on the road who had vapor lock problems. Doyle said they had a trick where they would attach clothespins in the carburetion system to help people get their cars going again.
But in 1992, the Carles/H.W. Stewart were outbid for the concession contract, ending a run by the family which two generations earlier had initiated the Summit House concessions.
Doyle cherishes the time she spent working there. “It was fabulous,” she said. “We lived up there for six months out of the year. I loved it. I didn't want to come down. There were incredible sunsets and sunrises and times when the clouds would burn off and it was beautiful.”
Westside Pioneer article