It’s Carnivale time in Manitou Springs, and that can only mean one thing – Manitou’s retail hibernation is about to end, and by the time the iris blooms tourists will be flocking back to this artistic enclave nestled against the eastern shoulder of Pikes Peak.
Some retail stores remain closed while owners wait for more tourists. Some of those that are open are preparing inventory for the influx of tourism they hope is not far away.
Yet, Manitou Springs remains an enigma. By all appearances, the 4,980 people living here are your regular, ordinary citizens. Some go to work, some act like they’re working, and some – well, it is unknown for sure what they do.
Take Filthy Wilma, for instance. Actually, you can’t, because she hasn’t been around, at least in the physical realm, for some time. But her spirit lives on in the hearts of many, not the least of which are the proprietors of a small art venture that has borrowed her name, if not her personal practices.
Artist Darlene Hardy is spiffing up the gallery – Filthy Wilma’s – at 10 Ruxton Avenue in preparation for an open house celebrating the Chinese “Year of the Horse.” Not surprisingly, several artists represented in the cooperative are displaying items featuring horses. Hardy’s real specialties are chickens and chili peppers.
“There is a real misconception about Manitou Springs,” said Ken Riesterer, who along with Hardy is one of five of Filthy’s owners. “The misconception is that Manitou closes down (at the end of the summer season).”
It’s true, Riesterer said, that some stores take an extended holiday following the tourist season. “Most store owners are open year round,” Riesterer said.
Down the street and around the corner on Manitou’s main avenue sits an old man eating a funnel cake. His fingers are sticky with powdered sugar and his beard is full of cake crumbs. He doesn’t want his picture taken and refuses to give his name, but claims Manitou as his part-time home.
“I don’t care if half the town closes down during the winter,” he said. “As long as I can get a funnel cake and have a drink, I’m happy.”
Finishing his cake, he brushes out his beard, washes his hands in one of perhaps a dozen natural springs, for which the town was named, and heads over to the Royal Tavern, which has a half-dozen big Harley-Davidson’s parked out front.
“That’s another misconception,” Riesterer said. “People say this is a biker town – it’s not.”
At least not today, when the cold winds are wild and the temperature is dropping. But on a hot summer day you’ll see dozens of bikers – perhaps motorcycle afficionados would be the politically correct term – at the town’s several bars and roaring down main street.
Newly-elected Mayor Marcy Morrison is also cognizant of the city’s “Summertime Susie” reputation, and said she and city officials are working to change it.
“We’re a small community with limited resources,” Morrison said. “We’re an old city and we need a lot of work, and getting people to come here year-round will help us (generated funds needed to improve infrastructure).”
The old spa building and the arcade sit in the heart of the city. The spa remains boarded up, after several purchasers failed to come up with the millions of dollars needed to refurbish it. And the arcade, tired, dirty, and needing extensive renovations, is up for sale.
“That area is the core part of our little town,” Morrison said. “I want to be the cheerleader that helps get it going again.”
The fact that the country is in a recession right now isn’t lost on Morrison, but she remains upbeat.
“I feel that synergy (to upgrade the core part of the town) right now,” Morrison said. “There are people looking at Manitou right now and they realize it is a unique community.”
Meanwhile, business owners will do what they need to do to stay alive.
“Did you know you can build a house out of hemp products for only about $14,000,” asks Tracy Shogren, one of three owners of HempTrends. HempTrends is located on Manitou’s east end, right next to a restaurant that has religious statuary in its outdoor eating area. HempTrends features products made from the hemp plant.
The products include, among others, shirts, purses, caps and hats, and paper. They’re not inexpensive, but will last for a very long time, Shogren said.