Struggles of an off-the-beaten-path downtown

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The Wal-Marts, the Home Depots and the Barnes and Nobles have one advantage over the small retailer in addition to discounts, plentiful parking and extended hours. Location.

Commuters welcome the ease of stopping at the nearest shopping center to pick up a box of laundry detergent or the latest bestseller.

Small retailers, nestled in urban areas, tourist locales or quaint, historical towns, like Monument, have to fight to retain a revenue-producing position among the big-box stores.

Monument is one of two incorporated cities (Palmer Lake is north of Monument) in the Tri-Lakes region which sits north of Colorado Springs and south of Castle Rock. Because of the proximity to Denver and the Springs, the area has traditionally been defined as a bedroom community, where residents sleep but work and play in the neighboring metropolitan areas.

Without a particular niche, many merchants in downtown Monument have enjoyed success as a result of hard work, tenacity and personalized customer service.

Tommie Plank, the owner of Covered Treasurers Bookstore, which is on the west side of Interstate 25, has operated her small business for 11 years. Facing competition, like the proposed Wal-Mart and the big-box stores coming to the new Jackson Creek Town Center, Plank said her edge will continue to be customer service.

People enjoy the personal attention they receive when an owner or employee recognizes them and remembers their last purchase. “People will travel for customer service,” Plank said. “And a certain number of people take personal pride in their local bookstore.”

Monument residents are highly educated with above-average income levels -indicators that a bookstore can thrive and solid reasons why Plank opened Covered Treasures.

In addition to loyal customers, Plank has stayed on top of her game through involvement with the Historical Monument Merchants Association, a group of business owners dedicated to promoting the downtown area. The group is committed to helping one another. Plank said that some merchants have come and gone, but not because of location. She said many of the owners put the cart before the horse and did not have a solid survival plan.

Downtown Monument may not be pigeon holed as a destination, but the merchants have captivated an audience of locals and others through the numerous events they sponsor, such as Small-Town Christmas, Small-Town Halloween, Mayfair, the annual fall festival and the summer concerts-in-the-park series.

This summer, the concerts-in-the-park series celebrates its fourth year. Each Wednesday night, from late June to early August, concertgoers, towing lounge chairs and coolers, stake their spot in Limbach Park. Last summer, people gathered to listen to music ranging from jazz to country.

The annual Fourth of July parade and street fair, sponsored by the Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce and the Sertoma Club, brings in a horde of people looking for the small-town mid-summer holiday experience.

Support for the events is strong, despite traffic congestion and bridge construction, which along with a lingering dampened economy and the closing of a Monument exit, have hurt downtown retail revenues.

The bright spot is the service industry. Business is booming at businesses such as hair and nail salons. The service businesses are destination spots for loyal clients, who provide a constant flow of traffic to the downtown area. If someone finds a trusted hair stylist or massage therapist in a particular salon, they will drive miles through construction and snarled traffic to get there.

Maria Tilberry is an esthetician and the owner of Expectations Salon. She is about to expand her salon for the second time since opening more than five years ago. Tilberry said her business, which includes a massage therapist, a nail technician and two hairstylists, has experienced 80 percent growth.

Although her business is strong, Tilberry said she realizes that other merchants are facing challenges. A downtown area must be attractive to attract business, she said. Monument could benefit from more sidewalks, streetlights and a few more businesses. “Everyone must realize that competition is healthy,” Tilberry said. “But in order to stay competitive, you must constantly reinvent yourself and support each other.”

The two downtown restaurants – the Coffee Cup Café and La Casa Fiesta – maintain an established clientele, plus for bringing people to the area.

The town has applied for grants to enhance the physical attributes of the downtown area. Mayor Betty Konarski said she believes in Monument could be a regional attraction because of the nearby lake and the potential for more specialty shops and restaurants.

“Our downtown will survive if we can get more retail to fill the empty spaces – mostly pieces of land,” Konarski said. “We need critical mass and a thriving recreation area next to the lake (Monument Lake) that provides a consistent draw during the summer months.”

Although the big-box stores are closing in (Home Depot will open this spring as the Jackson Creek Town Center anchor), downtown Monument merchants say they will continue to rely on their individuality and their customers’ desire for personal attention and good customer service.

“In today’s world,” Plank said, “people are feeling isolated and treated like a number – what we (the small retailer) can offer them is a one-on-one connection.”

- Editorial@csbj.com