On August 20, 1864, Colonel William O. Collins wrote Special Order Number One establishing a “permanent post” or fort, on the Cache la Poudre River. Fast forward to 2014 when the City of Fort Collins celebrated a major milestone, reaching its 150th anniversary.
In that time, much has changed. As Downtown Fort Collins has grown, evolved, and matured, it has held fast to historic roots and authentic character. However, much of what makes Downtown unique is the diversity of locally-owned businesses that operate here.
Hitting a milestone can be a meaningful moment for everyone connected to a business’ success — not just those within the four walls. By definition, milestones are the significant moments of accomplishment that mark a company’s development and growth. But what milestones truly represent and celebrate are relationships.
Whether it’s the relationship with the original founders and their vision, relationships with staff, or the relationships with the community and customers, milestones are a celebration of how authentically connected a business is to the people that help make it a success.
Below we honor and recognize just some of the locally owned and operated businesses, ranging from well established to brand new.
Located on the banks of the Poudre River in Downtown Fort Collins, flour milling operations began in 1868, making Ranch-Way Feeds the oldest continually operating Fort Collins business. Flour milling was discontinued in 1948, replaced by manufacturing of livestock feed. Today, they focus on bulk commercial feed, wholesale bagged feed, and specialty products for animals from alpacas to zebras and everything in between.
Owned by Bonnie Szidon and Joe Bixler, the company had been in their family for over 50 years. In 2016, the business was sold to Minnesota-based feed company, Hubbard Feeds.
Proceeded only by what is known as Ranch-Way Feeds, City Drug is the second-longest lasting business in Fort Collins with roots going back to 1873. Several moves and a couple owners later, Arthur Grovert and his brother Harold, purchased the drugstore now known as ‘City Drug’ in 1946 at the corner of Mountain and College avenues.
In 1991, the business was sold to Charles and Sylvia Wilkins. The business moved again in 2009, relocating a few blocks north to 209 N. College Ave. These days, their children Berni and Barb, both with pharmacy degrees, do most of the heavy lifting, but Sylvia continues to work in the store.
City Drug has been Downtown decade after decade, and for good reason. When you stop into City Drug, take a few moments to get to know the Wilkins family. Barbara says that forming relationships with her customers is one of the greatest pleasures of working in the business.
Cloyd Garwood originally opened the store at 146 S. College Ave. in 1944. In the late 1940s, he briefly moved the store to Estes Park before moving back to the present location on S. College Ave.
Many current customers turn to Garwood’s for all of their jewelry needs since Cloyd Garwood first set up shop, and in turn, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren continue the tradition of visiting Garwood’s for life’s milestones: engagements, anniversaries, graduations and birthdays. The store has been a fixture for generations and prides themselves on their workmanship, honesty, integrity, and trust. They are grateful for the community support and look forward to serving the community for decades to come!
Trimble Court Artisans
Celebration: Trimble Court Artisans is celebrating 50 years in business with November being their birthday celebration! They’ll be having a special featured show for Art Walk with all of the member-artists participating!
Trimble Court Artisans started when a CSU professor, Martha Scott Trimble, made the store front at 118 Trimble Court available to a group of young women artisans in 1971. Promoting the local art community by having a space available to sell handcrafted wares from local makers of all mediums was the goal of the founding members.
Trimble Court Artisans continues to be member-owned by over 50 local artists. Their customer base is made up of locals, out of state, and even some out of the country patrons; members appreciate the pride customers take in supporting the local art community in Downtown Fort Collins.
The Cupboard opened in Downtown Fort Collins in 1972 in the newly remodeled Northern Hotel. Affordable rent was an initial draw, but even as the Foothills Mall was opening, The Cupboard stayed in Downtown because of the historic character, variety of businesses, the potential of the area, and because customers encouraged them to continue to be a part of Downtown. Remembering The Cupboard’s opening day, Carey Hewitt shared, “We opened November 22, 1972, the day before Thanksgiving, with very little inventory. Fortunately one customer wanted to buy a wood salad bowl set. She was visiting from Virginia and wanted a box and wrapping to take it home with her. We had neither so my partner ran across the street and bought a newspaper to wrap up the bowl set and I found a clean box in the dumpster. Some years later, this customer recounted that she was surprised that we both disappeared for a few minutes and I explained that she was part of our learning process.”
“Success is a collaborative effort. It means listening to customers and sourcing the merchandise that appeals to them. It means empowering our staff to buy, display, and sell the quality merchandise we carry. It means treating everyone with respect and consideration and of course being fair in our business dealings. It needs to be a win-win situation not just once but every day.”
Originating in Idaho Springs, the company first expanded to Fort Collins. For more than 15 years, Beau Jo’s was a longtime fixture in the historic Avery building at the corner of College and Mountain before making a move in 2013.
Reopening in 2014 at their current location at 205 N. College Avenue, Beau Jo’s remains committed to holding themselves to the highest moral standards and treating employees like part of the family, realizing they are crucial to the success of the company. Listening to employees, community, and customers have helped maintain their success. They embrace change, like expanding the menu to include gluten-free and vegan options, to stay relevant.
Alpine Arts – The Colorado Showcase
Having just moved to Fort Collins with his wife and three little kids, Mark Thieman wanted a change of careers. In 1981, he decided to open a gift/craft store that offered picture framing. Years later, when her parents stepped back, Christie Rogers stepped up to carry on the family business. She credits their success to her dad’s business sense and slowly finding their Colorado-centric niche, which appeals to visitors and locals alike.
Her favorite childhood memory is visiting the store with her brother and sister, hanging out before and after school and occasionally in the evening with their parents. Now, she is raising her kids much the same way, which she hopes will create meaningful memories for them. Being a multi-generational family-run business is incredibly special and is a source of pride for her and the family.
The Wright Life
Owners Bill and Holly Wright came to CSU with a thought of playing frisbee on campus, and it turned into a lifetime passion. “We promoted and competed in disc sports even before the store opened. Having established “The Grateful Disc” as a CSU Club in 1978 and competed as “The Coloradicals” freestyle frisbee team, coined in 1979, there was a natural merchandise and promotion element to these games. As we traveled and ran local events, we sold branded merchandise to support our habit. Then there was a thought that a retail store would benefit from all this as well. At 23-years-old, it seemed worth a try.”
The Wright Life officially opened in October 1981 at 200 Linden Street. They occupied half the 4,500 sq. ft. building that had previously been Widows Sew and Vac, owned by Bob Widows. With much anticipation, just around the corner was the development of Old Town Square.
“There are many stories along the way but needless to say Old Town has become our passion. There are very few communities that match what Old Town Fort Collins has become. We just love what our Downtown has become and feel that what we’ve done in terms of participation and creativity has contributed substantially. More than likely our favorite memories are yet to come.”
Walrus Ice Cream
Numerous reasons encouraged Lisa Paugh to purchase Walrus Ice Cream, a staple in Downtown Fort Collins since 1987. “Downtown Fort Collins is unique with a large number of locally-owned businesses and unwavering support from our residents. You can walk into almost any shop and see the owner working alongside their employees.” For Lisa, the best part of being in Downtown is the way everyone works together to create a destination for residents and visitors alike. “The fun that’s created, and the team work required to pull it off safely, is what we are known for. It drives activity Downtown and enables our small business to thrive and allows us to continue to give back. Supporting the community that supports us, that is what living in Fort Collins is all about!”
She attributes Walrus’ success to residents’ love for the local. They make everything in the store daily, and love serving homemade ice cream to people who enjoy eating fresh ingredients. Walrus’ also helps people celebrate some of the biggest moments in their lives, including: birthdays, anniversaries, first dates, baby’s first ice cream, engagements, senior pictures, wedding pictures, and just enjoying being together. What is better than that?
Wear It Again, Sam
Wear It Again, Sam has been in the same location in Downtown Fort Collins since 1988. Owner Kimberly Sewald started working there in 2002 and made her dream come true when she bought the shop from its previous owner in 2018.
In her own words, “I am honored to be the keeper of dreams, a vintage clothing Cupid. If you are looking for a place to bring your cherished vintage items from your family or yourself, I am here. My entire life is this shop and I am so grateful and so proud.” Along with incredible inventory, Wear It Again, Sam hopes to help you find the one item your heart desires. With offerings of consignment and vintage clothing, clothing repair, it’s a place to discover the clothing of your dreams as Kim discovered her dream in this store.
Bas Bleu Theatre Company
Founded by Eva Wright and Wendy Ishii, Bas Bleu opened in July, 1992 at the Fort Collins Lincoln Center.
In 1994, Bas Bleu Theatre Company opened its operations in a renovated storefront at 216 Pine Street with a 15’ x 20’ stage and 49-seats. By 2003, they outgrew the tiny space and boldly moved across the railroad tracks to the historic Giddings Building at 401 Pine Street. The new space offers a 99-seat theatre and art gallery, located in the burgeoning River District.
Bas Blue remains committed to creating live performances that take risks in form and style and incorporate multiple media (music, visual arts, dance, and film). They strive to integrate diverse artistic cultures and traditions and aim to give audiences more to think about.
They credit their success on the kind generosity and heartfelt support of dedicated patrons and donors and are indebted to the enduring commitment and constant encouragement of the theatre-loving citizens of Fort Collins.
The Perennial Gardener
Since moving to Fort Collins in 1991, husband and wife team, Ted and Ellen Zibell, have loved Downtown. When the Downtown Business Association Director position became available in 1993, Ellen was selected and this allowed her to become intimately involved in the Downtown community. Downtown, at that time, was in the early stages of redevelopment, with glimmers of the area’s potential. While property values were very affordable, they moved beyond dreaming “what if” we had our own business to “why not”. When they found the building where The Perennial Gardener now presides for sale, they purchased the building in December 1993. A plan to remodel the building was developed in 1994, with the work starting in February 1995. The Perennial Gardener opened its doors for business on June 2, 1995.
The initial warm welcome from the Fort Collins community has evolved into wonderful relationships with their customers. Always striving to deliver what customers want, they continue to evolve. Expanding into the Sense of Place building in the fall of 1999 was critical to that evolution.
Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop
Coming from the publishing and graphic design worlds, the journey of opening a Scoop Shop has been both fun and challenging for owners, Ann and Lee Swanson. Ben & Jerry’s opened in 1996 and are proud to have been in business for 25 years!
They chose Downtown Fort Collins, specifically Old Town Square, due to its gathering space. They also saw the potential to contribute to make Downtown better through opportunities such as building the Bear and Fish sculptures, hosting a summer Friday Afternoon Concert series, or having events like Free Cone Day. These all create a welcome gathering place for visitors, families, and anyone who wants to relax in a historic Colorado setting. Ann and Lee are 45-year residents of the Choice City, and believe there is no better place on Earth!
Their success is owed mostly to the people who call Fort Collins home and who come Downtown to enjoy all it has to offer and get a cool treat, all year round!
Kilwins Chocolates & Ice Cream
Jack and Donna Vogt opened Kilwins in 1996 and operated this successful candy shop for 11 years. After a career in geology, current owner Nora Hill needed a change, and for her, Downtown Fort Collins was the only place on her list. Jack and Donna taught her about making the candy, helping customers with purchases, but most of all they instilled that a quality product, made with care, is what sets Kilwins apart.
“The energy and friendships that I have formed Downtown are the most rewarding aspect of being part of the business community. The people are what makes Downtown a special place: customers that have been coming in for years, new customers discovering Kilwins for the first time, and all of the helpful business owners who are neighbors.”
After moving to Fort Collins post college in 1994, Howard knew he wanted to open a business in Downtown. Howard grew up in the gift business; his parents owned gift stores in his hometown of San Diego for many years, and he always loved working there as a kid. They inspired Howard to start a shop of his own in 1996, and they were key in helping start Curiosities. He invested countless hours to launch Curiosities and has always enjoyed chatting with customers and finding new and unique gifts to feature in the shop over the years. Howard believes having the opportunity to meet so many great customers, “that is really the best.”
Clothes Pony & Dandelion Toys
Sisters, Becca and Jenny Bramhall, love the authenticity and charm of historic areas and never considered opening their store anywhere other than Downtown Fort Collins. Passionate about kids, community, and fun, they love the fellowship with their customers and neighboring small businesses, many of which are locally owned.
Originally opening Clothes Pony in 2003 as a children’s clothing store, the business was located in the Opera Galleria at 123 N. College Ave. C-161. In 2004, Clothes Pony relocated to 111 N. College Ave. to share a space with Children’s Mercantile, a toy and book store started in 1978. The fluffy bunny that previously lived in Children’s Mercantile was named Dandelion. When Children’s Mercantile closed, the sisters took over the whole space and named their new toy store Dandelion Toys, after the beloved bunny.
They believe their success is founded on being open-hearted and welcoming to all. Expecting kids to be kids, they tell families as they enter, “Come in, play with everything, and make a mess!!” This mission has built a loyal following over the years. They also welcome new guests who are entranced by the size and selection as well as the warm and happy atmosphere — and their current bunny, Smudge! Every spring they hold a Clothes Pony Birthday Party with pony rides, games, crafts, toy demos, cake, and freebies to say ‘Thank You’ for the years of support.
University Center of the Arts
CSU embraced the opportunity to transform the historic Fort Collins High School building into The University Center for the Arts (UCA): a world-class performing arts center with five performance venues for music, theatre, and dance, two art museums, and dozens of labs, rehearsal spaces, and practice rooms.
The UCA represents the first time that the performing arts at Colorado State University have operated in the same facility, providing ongoing opportunities for amazing collaborations and cross training for students. With more than 250 performances and exhibitions presented each year, there is something to be enjoyed by patrons of all ages and interests.
The 1924 building is a community treasure for campus and Northern Colorado arts patrons. As well, locals and tourists alike love to take their photo in front of the infamous Campbell’s Soup Can sculpture, constructed in conjunction with Andy Warhol, and signed by the artist during his visit to CSU’s campus in 1981.
Darvier Jewelry Design Studio
Proud to be Colorado made. After looking at several Colorado locations, none felt more welcoming than Fort Collins. Downtown is vibrant and beautiful, plus CSU has an excellent Metalsmithing Department where many of their team honed their skills before joining Darvier.
With a focus on education during in-person or virtual design appointments, the team has a creative style of problem solving, without the pressure of commissioned sales. As a result, they have developed a loyal customer base. They also welcome collaboration with casting, engraving, or stone sourcing to create some very wild projects.
In the near future, they’ll be moving into a larger location and celebrating their 15-year brick-and-mortar anniversary in 2022.
Wagz Pet Market & Grooming
Downtown Fort Collins is the ‘PURR-FECT’ place for a pet-friendly boutique business. Since opening in 2007, the success of Wagz has been tied to the community. Fort Collins is an incredibly dog-friendly town which lends itself to the “tail wagging” atmosphere in the shop. Welcoming “paw” traffic, Wagz provides plenty of room for furry customers to sniff and shop around.
Over the years, Wagz has developed its own personality based on a combination of its loyal customers and friendly, animal-loving staff. Wagz continues to evolve with each new owner, manager and crew; it has never been just one person’s vision.
With a strong belief in giving back to the community, their favorite memory is the first “Sunday Doggie Sundae” fundraising event held in Trimble Court Alley. “Watching the excitement of dogs getting their sundae and then the delight on each pet parent’s face while their dog devoured it was priceless!”
Old Firehouse Books
Looking to be closer to other businesses and more accessible to customers, The Book Rack (originally started in 1980) moved from its previous location at 1801 S. College Ave. to its iconic storefront at the old firehouse on Walnut St. in 2009. The move prompted a name change as well, becoming Old Firehouse Books.
The ability to change and adapt to what people are looking for has been the key to success. The owners have been in the book business for over 30 years. When they started, the store only sold used books, did not host events, or have connections to publishers. Now, the store sells a mix of new and used books, holds multiple author events, offers an online store, and works with publishers on a regular basis. They also hire excellent people that bring in new ideas that help them change with the times while maintaining what customers love. Old Firehouse Books takes pride in being the largest independent bookstore in Northern Colorado!
Happy Lucky’s Teahouse
Back in 2009, Fort Collins did not have a teahouse. Recognizing an opportunity, husband and wife co-owners George Grossman and Kari Grady Grossman created a place for people to gather, create community, and share tea. With an array of culturally appropriate teaware, they set up service for friends to enjoy face-to-face interactions. Opposite of the busy, on-the-go, multi-tasking coffee culture, they intentionally wanted to cultivate communi-TEA in the heart of Fort Collins.
As one of the promotion’s original visionaries, it was community and collaboration that prompted the creation of Foodie Walk in 2012. Also in the spirit of collaboration, their ‘Tea About Town’ partnerships with local cafes, restaurants, and craft beverage creators allows Happy Lucky’s to share the love of tea beyond their four walls. Happy Lucky’s is featured all across town in: kombucha, beer, spirits, and cocktails, as well as yoga studios, healthcare facilities, hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops. They’re even the proud tea supplier of CSU!
Old Town Spice Shop
Old Town Spice opened at 220 Linden Street in 2010 and at that time there were no other spice shops in Fort Collins. It was about this time when an obsession with all things culinary took hold as more people became interested in learning about the sourcing and preparation of their food.
As a family-owned business, Old Town Spice Shop caters to those that relish the experience of preparing food and sharing with others. They pride themselves on providing high quality spices, blends, seasonings, teas, and other products.
A favorite memory of doing business Downtown is the creation of Foodie Walk. Said owner, Sean Godbey, “In partnership with the owners at Happy Lucky’s Teahouse, we designed the promotion to showcase retail-based food businesses in Downtown. Instead of viewing each other as competitors, they teamed up and worked together to grow all of our businesses. We are excited to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the promotion in 2022!”
“Cooking for friends and family is very personal. It’s the personal connection that drives our company’s success. Whether it’s relationships with our suppliers, employees, or loyal customers, it’s the love of food that connects us. We enjoy food and love to expand people’s knowledge of food, allowing them to make something new or unique to share with their loved ones.”
On June 20, 2014, Organic Alternatives became Fort Collins’ first dispensary to sell recreational marijuana. Owner Steve Ackerman, recalls the reception and patience of customers and staff when his shop became the first cannabis dispensary in the city to have a license to sell to adults 21 and over. Said Ackerman, “Downtown Fort Collins has always held a very special place in my heart and Old Town is clearly “Where it’s at!” I started my first business, Sam’s Old Town Ballroom, on the corner of Walnut and Linden (now Little Bird Bakery and Bondi Beach Bar) in 1974”.
Savory Spice Fort Collins
When Susan Kirkpatrick first opened the store in the summer of 2011, it was a chance to merge her love of cooking with her favorite area in Fort Collins, Downtown. Savory Spice founder, Mike Johnston, had also been eager to open a location in Old Town, and with the end of Kirkpatrick’s tenure as a public servant, a serendipitous opportunity arose.
After nearly a decade of establishing and nurturing the business, Kirkpatrick retired and sold the store to two trusted and capable colleagues. Chris Grattino, owner of the Aurora branch, and Chris VanDenBerg took over ownership on July 1, 2021.
Savory Spice’s success and growth are a testament to the fact that there is no replacement for genuine and lasting personal relationships. They are proud to take part in exciting neighborhood events like Foodie Walk every month, dressing up in costumes to hand out candy to Downtown trick-or-treaters, to hosting cookbook authors, and sponsoring local organizations like the Gardens on Spring Creek.
“We make it our duty to “Live Life Full” every day. Some of the best experiences are the opportunities we have to make someone’s day a little bit brighter. Whether it takes a little bit of detective work to help a customer recreate a blend they loved or helping a little one practice their math skills by demonstrating how we weigh our spices, we believe that the most beautiful moments emerge from ordinary shopping trips.”
Pinot’s Palette Sip & Paint Studio
Starting as a single paint and sip studio in Houston, TX in 2009, Pinot’s Palette now has locally owned studios from coast to coast and around the world. In 2012, Fort Collins was selected as the 4th Pinot’s Palette franchise location to open in the country. Local small business owner and manager, Kim Curtis, watched this developing franchise grow to over 100 locations across the United States and Canada.
Kim has lived in Fort Collins since 1980 and observed the Downtown area grow and develop into the wonderful place that it is today. In reflecting, Kim says, “We were lucky to get such a great location on Mountain Avenue and have worked hard to develop Pinot’s Palette through the years!”
From date nights to birthdays to bachelorette parties, Pinot’s paint parties are a unique way to celebrate all of life’s special moments – even if the occasion is just called “because.” They are proud to provide creative entertainment opportunities for the community and look forward to celebrating their 10-year anniversary next year.
April 2021 marked CopperMuse’s 7-year anniversary. Their mission has been to build on the excellence of craft brewing in the area and apply this heritage and standards of quality to their distilling works. Community values such as sustainable living and business practices, pride in their community, and celebrating the bold and audacious creativity of the individual have always been held paramount.
When choosing where to set up shop, husband and wife owners Jason Hevlone and Heather Trantham liked that Downtown was a destination for them when raising a family and continues to be a family-friendly place. It seemed natural that a distillery would fit right in with the other breweries, restaurants, and retail establishments in the area.
Despite the challenges of maintaining a business during the development of The Exchange, CopperMuse remained open. Now it is a thriving entertainment destination. When, in 2020, another wave of unexpected challenges hit due to the COVID 19 pandemic, they remained resilient, adapted, and developed to-go cocktails, hand sanitizer, and other take home and gift options such as cocktail packages and gift baskets. “It’s the strong support of our community that has seen us through. We are so grateful for the unwavering support of our community!”
When you ask Illegal Pete’s founder, Pete Turner, why he first opened a restaurant in 1995, he remembers his main goal: “I wanted to create a fun and energetic atmosphere with music playing, employees having fun, and I wanted to include our customers in the fun.”
The original Illegal Pete’s opened on ‘The Hill’ in Boulder, bringing Mission-style burritos to a bustling college neighborhood. Inspired by the name of a bar in a novel, he chose “Illegal Petes” to convey the unique, countercultural atmosphere he wanted to foster.
It was also a personal choice, “The name resonated with me for the obvious reason that my name is Pete, but of equal importance, it was my father’s name.” Over 25 years, Illegal Pete’s has expanded from that original location to include restaurants up and down Colorado’s front range and Arizona, including the Fort Collins location which opened in 2015.
The pairing of fast, healthy food with a vibrant cultural atmosphere remains the core of the Illegal Pete’s experience. You’ll see a lot of diversity at Pete’s, from the diners to the employees to the playlist jamming from the speakers. At Illegal Pete’s, it’s about meeting the masses where their interests lie, and their anti-cookie-cutter, ever-changing formula enables them to achieve this.
The Elegant Pear
When looking for a storefront for the retail side of her design business, owner Cherilee Blubaugh, immediately felt the vibrancy in Downtown. It was an easy decision to make and in 2015, The Elegant Pear opened at 150 N. College Avenue, previously home of Surfside 7.
“The camaraderie and support of other shop owners has been crucial to getting to where we are now. We knew nothing about retail when we opened, but with a lot of prayer and helpful guidance, we have been successful in identifying who we are for our customers and clients. We love how our relationships with clients have developed into friendships over the years.”
Toni’s Barber Shop
Mother-daughter owners Toni and Nickole Harders had both worked in the Downtown area. Toni’s Barber Shop opened off the beaten path at Olive and Mason Street in 2014. They love the uniqueness of the location, and the train! They attribute their success to their customers and appreciate all of the friends they have made through the years.
Newer to Downtown, Peacock’s Perched opened in 2019. They love their location because of the ample foot traffic, the beautiful atmosphere, and vibrancy of the nearby street performers. They welcome customers inside to explore local artists’ upcycled, unique, and functional art.
Owner Michele Pullaro loves watching customers discover that upscale, upcycled art can be inspiring, fun, and functional.
Dandelions & Rust: A Colorado Mercantile
Owners, Karyn and Tanya Mielke started Dandelions & Rust with about 5 local vendors and an idea and willingness to do something fun that they hoped would someday be successful. They grew to 35 local vendors at 1220 S. College Ave, but now are home to nearly 45 local artists, makers, collectors, and up-cyclers at their new 119 W. Oak St. location.
Dandelions & Rust opened Downtown on June 18, 2021. So far, they love the energy and the feedback both from the community and folks just passing through. When they first opened on May 1, 2019, in Midtown they wanted to create a sense of community among local creatives, and feel they were successful in that endeavor. Downtown though, was automatic membership into a community that already exists! Owner Karyn comments, “We didn’t need to build it, we just needed to show up. And here we are! The support from the city and from the Downtown merchants has been amazing. We are so excited to find out what the future holds.”