More Old Town shops stay open late

       The lights are on in Old Colorado City this summer.
       Two years ago, an unofficial survey showed fewer than 15 stores in the historic shopping district staying open until 8 o'clock during tourist season. This month, the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) merchants group issued a report listing 8 p.m. commitments from 27 merchants. That represents close to a quarter of Old Town's stores, with even more believed to be keeping later hours but hesitant to commit to it.
       “It's a different world today,” observed Charlie Irwin, who opened his store, the Attic, about a year ago. “People expect different services from businesses. And what we hear a lot is that people wish we would stay open later.”
       “We've got some new business owners, and just about every one of them sees a value in doing it,” said Mazie Baalman, co-owner of the Chocolate Factory and a stay-open-late proponent for several years. A big key is not to give up because it's usually slow around dinnertime. “When you run your own store, 5 to 6 p.m. can be an eternity,” she noted. “But by 7 p.m. everything can break loose sometimes.”
       Unlike shopping malls, where hours are dictated by mall management, Old Colorado City consists almost entirely of independent shopkeepers - many of whom chose that line of work because they don't like being told what to do. So it can be “a challenge” to convince some people, “but the more that do it, the more people get on board,” Irwin said.
       This is the first summer that Everest Tibet Imports, which has been in Old Town for almost seven years, has stayed open late on weekdays as well as weekends. Pasang Sherpa, who manages the store (one of four in Colorado Springs) for his sister, Renu Shrestha, said he is happy with the results. “It picks up the business,” he said. “Families come in. It's very peaceful.”
       He doesn't mind if some surrounding businesses are closed at that time (“When others close, I have more people,” he laughed), but sees a value in more stores being open, because then Old Colorado City is generally perceived as a place to go on summer evenings.
       Such favorable comments jibe with what Irwin has been hearing. “People staying open late are excited about it,” he said.
       Count Tracey Owens, who became the owner of Mountain Moppets last December, as one of those. The store relies on summer tourists for part of its business. What she's found with a lot of them is, “they go to the mountains in the daytime, then come down here in the evenings, have dinner and walk around. It doesn't do any good if you're not open.”
       Another element in the mix is the general appearance of Old Colorado City. Both Irwin and Baalman, both members of the OCCA board, praised the Old Colorado City Security & Maintenance District for keeping up the public amenities, as well as the merchants in general for taking care of their areas. “People are always taking pride, but maybe it's a notch more now,” Irwin said.

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