Warm summer eves not enough to keep doors open in most OCC shops
Strolling through Old Colorado City on a warm summer evening, visitors can enjoy brick sidewalks, historically styled light
fixtures, green trees, flower barrels and classic old buildings.
But if they want to shop, their selections are limited. As a rule, including restaurants and bars, fewer than 15 of the Historic District businesses - no more than 20 percent - stay open after 7 p.m., according to unofficial unobservations.
By contrast, a similar survey of the shops in Manitou Springs around the same time of night showed close to half of them open. Whether because of that or some other reason, the number of people on streets at that time greatly exceeded those in Old Town.
The Old Colorado City situation is not from lack of trying. The Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) merchants group works to attract people through Territory Days and numerous other events year-round, including the annual Car Show on the avenue Aug. 21; and an expanded Scarecrow Days coming up in September.
But merchants are less likely to stay open when the streets aren't packed with people. The problem is that Old Colorado City doesn't have a reputation for being open late, and as a result not many people come there in the evening, said Mazie Baalman, co-owner of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and vice president of OCCA.
“We're kind of between a rock and a hard place,” she said.
Nancy Stovall, OCCA president, has a similar take on the matter. “It's that same old thing,” she said. “It's so hard to stay open late. Merchants don't realize there are people shopping at that time. If more stores were open, more people would shop.”
The trick in Manitou is “critical mass,” revealed Kitty Clemens, director of the city's Economic Development Council (EDC). “We're creating more pedestrian traffic so the merchants can see it's in their best interest to stay open.”
Some of the influence - particularly noticeable this year - comes from Manitou's downtown renovation, in which business and government people have worked together on plans and grants to upgrade the infrastructure in the town's main retail area, Clemens added.
In many ways, Manitou is in the same boat as Old Colorado City. Both shopping areas have historic areas with nearly all independent merchants. And, unlike shopping malls, which require certain hours for their lessees, neither locale has rules to tell people when they can open and close.
“Part of what's good about being here is that there are a lot of independent thinkers,” Baalman said, half-jokingly. “And part of what isn't good is that there are a lot of independent thinkers.”
She said her son, Jason, who recently opened the Eclectic Asylum in Old Colorado City, went around to shopkeepers last year and appealed to them to try staying open for just three weekends. Several acquiesced, but there was bad weather on those weekends, so in the end not much came of the effort, she recalled.
“Ever since I've been here, and this is my 15th year, it's always been a problem,” Stovall said. “Years ago, it was just myself and two or three others. So it's gotten better, but we're not there yet.”
One of those who's been staying open late this summer is Silver Moon Presents, an imports store which is in its first year in Old Colorado City. “Thirty percent of my business is between 6 and 8 p.m.,” said Silver Moon owner Charlie Cagiao. “It's been that way since I opened in April.”
On the other hand, he said, the majority of the district's merchants “look out between 5 and 6:30 and see everything's died down.” So they close their doors.
But if those shopkeepers stayed open a little, they'd find “people coming out of the restaurants and out of the motels.” And, with the variety of stores, “we can be everything they're looking for, right here in Old Colorado City,” Cagiao said.
Howard Walters, who started retailing in Old Colorado City 14 years ago, now owns three retail shops in the 2500 block. Gauging that about 70 percent of his trade comes from tourists, he sees staying open on summer nights as savvy business practice. That can mean as late as 10 p.m., if circumstances warrant it. “We've just always found there are people who come and shop late at night,” he said. “Since we're the last shop open, we'll catch the last-minute shoppers.”
Both Cagaio and Walters have noticed what's happening in Manitou. Cagaio would like to follow that town's example, in terms of coming up with regular attractions or seeking out grant money for improvements. If more people came to Old Town as a result of such efforts, more merchants would see a benefit in staying open, he said.
Baalman understands that there are economic reasons for many of the retailers to keep shorter hours. Some don't feel they can afford to hire employees to handle the extra hours. There are even those who need the evenings for second jobs, so they can earn enough to pay the rent for their shops.
No special program - carrot or stick - is currently envisioned to bring about a change in Old Town's current nighttime status. Baalman has encouraged later hours in recent OCCA newsletters, but said this hasn't brought major results.
Walters would love to see 80 percent of the district's shops open till 8 in the summertime. “There would be more business then,” he said. “People would come.”
Cagaio, who recently joined the OCCA board in hopes of advancing his ideas, remembers Old Colorado City as an active place when he was a child growing up here. He thinks bringing that spirit back is important, not just to merchants but to the people who live in the area. “Old Colorado City,” he said, “is the pride of the Westside.”
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