After quarter-century, independently owned propane business on avenue closingOct. 5, 2018
The Old Town Propane Company, which has been a fixture in the 2700 block of West Colorado Avenue for a quarter-century, is closing.
The owners, Don and Linda Schlarb, are “going to retire, finally,” summarized Linda.
They sold the 18,000-square-foot property Oct. 4 to Franco Pisani, owner of the Paravicini's and Sopra's restaurants across the street at 28th and Colorado, but said they will likely
The site is covered with asphalt, with three small buildings on it. “At this time it is going to be parking for the restaurant but we're looking forward to building something exciting in the future,” Pisani said, in response to a Westside Pioneer e-mail question.
Linda and Don, who will never be accused of political correctness, have jokingly suggested that Pisani turn it into a theme park and call it "Franco Land."
The couple didn't try to sell their business, which offers a range of propane services, including tank refills. Don observed that typically people like him who actually work in the trade “couldn't afford to buy it.” He's also not impressed with bigger companies that offer propane as a side enterprise, saying he's not sure they always follow the right procedures.
The Schlarbs started Old Town Propane in 1993 when Don quit his job at a gas company after “I got [angry] at my boss.” He had wanted to see his son ride in a motorcross race on a Saturday but was told he couldn't; he had to work that day.
But once he and Linda got Old Town Propane going, Don said with a wry grin, “I”ve worked every damn Saturday since.”
Making the business successful took some work. The couple had chosen the location because no place like it existed west of I-25. What they found initially was skeptical locals asking them if they were Westsiders.
They realized the secret was to to be consistently honest and fair. “Once you earn their trust, you've got a customer for life,” Don said, adding his impression that
It also didn't hurt that the building on the property that they've used for their office is fondly remembered in Westside lore as the original home of Cy's Restaurant (1953 to 1968).
The Schlarbs gave Old Town Propane some personality right from the start, as exemplified by their changeable message sign facing traffic on West Colorado. One of the first messages they put up - back in 1993 when their business' permits were coming in slower than expected but meanwhile the Denver International Airport seemed like it would never open - was the one that read “Will Open Before DIA.”
Examples of others over the years are “Tank Heaven for Little Grills” and “Real Men Grill All Winter.”
But the Schlarbs have gotten particular fun out of the message that reads, “Slow Down - The Cop Hides Behind This Sign.” They said multiple officers have parked their cars in that very spot and (just for the fun of it) photographed the scene with their cell phones. A photo the Schlarbs took shows a cop actually writing a ticket to a driver who wound up being pulled over beside the sign.
The Schlarbs have made no secret of their overall support of local law enforcement. Linda has been active for several years with the Avenue Task Force, an informal group of business owners and residents trying to reduce criminality along the Colorado Avenue corridor.
This year, as well as in 2013 and 2015, the Schlarbs have allowed the El Paso County Sheriff's vehicle called the “Mobile Command Post” to park overnight on their property, as part of an enforcement effort and community outreach.
A growing concern for Old Town Propane's owners has been the vagrancy in Old Colorado City. But their push for enforcement of city laws has been tempered with “tough love.” Their stories reveal a steady willingness to help anyone down on their luck who's got a good heart.
Linda told about one older individual who was broke and had personal problems, but kept proudly turning down assistance offers from the Colorado Springs Police Department's Homeless Outreach (HOT) Team. Concerned that he wouldn't make it through the winter, Linda called HOT, told them where he was camping and offered to go with them. Facing the officers, the camper once again expressed defiance. So Linda stepped forward. “You get your baggy ass into that g-d police car,” she ordered him. And this time he went.
Other than staying involved with the Avenue Task Force, the Schlarbs, who live in lower Skyway, haven't decided on any plans for retirement. As Don chuckled, he and Linda will “probably fight for two years until we figure out something.”
Don made it clear he will miss a lot of the interplay he's had with customers over the years. One of them was his awareness over time that he was no longer an outsider in this part of town. So in recent years, Don said he's the one who's been putting forth the question to customers: “Are you a Westsider?”
Westside Pioneer article