New Manitou businesses appeal to the local tastes

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A Manitou makeover is in the works, and complementing the proposed fresh look and changing face are a few new businesses that have settled downtown within the last six months.

Those new businesses are as diverse as Manitou’s residents, and the owners are gearing up to attract not only the traditional tourist crowd but also the locals and visitors from nearby towns and cities.

While the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce concentrates on the out-of-state summer tourist crowd, the Manitou Springs Business Improvement District is trying to draw its own and residents from areas surrounding the quaint mountain town in an effort to enhance Manitou’s year-round livelihood.

The business district formed last November after voters gave it a green light in the general election. The district’s funding is based on a per-square-foot dollar amount assessed on the owners and lease holders of the buildings in Manitou’s central commercial area. Kitty Clemens is the administrator of the district, and she compared the district’s beginnings to the “rising tide that raises all ships.”

“When we passed the business improvement district last November, at the same time we approved a bond issue to pay for road improvements,” she said.

This spring, Manitou seal-coated and re-striped its streets, creating a three-lane thoroughfare. Other plans for Manitou’s makeover include additional trees and the new Shoshone Park Plaza. The district is also seeking grant money for improvements to the city’s streetscape. As Manitou completes its renovations, Clemens said rents could increase. “Vacancies haven’t lasted that long in Manitou because people want to get in before the rent goes up,” she said.

Leslie Lewis is the executive director of the Manitou chamber, and she said that “sudden vacancies” have contributed to the influx of new businesses. “In two cases, one business owner retired and one died, opening up a couple of lease spaces,” Lewis said. “And the new businesses have been a wonderful addition to the economy.”

Clemens agreed. “The diversity of products is great,” she said. “The new business owners are adding specialty retail items to bring back the locals more than once. One of the district’s goals is to reach people in a 10-mile radius. Our branding strategy for Manitou has been that it is a one-of-a-kind retail area reflective of a Bohemian-type culture.”

Manitou’s unconventional style is mirrored through the goods on display at the Poppy Seed, located inside a brand new stucco building at 123 Canon Ave. Dustin and Liz Ray opened the shop April 2, just in time for summer tourists. However, Dustin Ray said the store’s sundry array of goods caters to Manitou locals and customers from the outlying areas. Liz Ray said they did not want to offer the “typical tourist stuff.”

“We’ve kept our prices low, too, so we attract the locals,” she said.

Tastefully assorted in the large retail space are a variety of colorful and distinct types of children and adult clothing, along with transfers for T-shirts, backpacks, reggae music, jewelry, old photos and unique gifts.

Dustin Ray said there has been an equal mix of tourists and locals, including folks from Pueblo, Monument and the Springs. “It seems we are getting a lot more locals every day,” he said. And Dustin Ray is happy to see Manitou residents embrace the store. “I love this town because it is so diverse,” he said. “Where else could you pass by a bar and see a guy in a three-piece suit, a hippie and a biker all hanging out together.”

The Rays had been visitors to Colorado and Manitou for many years, and decided to leave their home state of Missouri and sell their farm while a move was still acceptable to their 8-year-old and 9-year-old. “And we’re doing fine – business is good,” Dustin Ray said.

Lee Gochis also is trying to indulge the local crowd. “I am seeing a lot of Colorado people in my store,” Gochis said. “If we want to attract the locals, we need to bring in high-end stores and get away from the tomahawk thing.” Gochis knows high end – although she and her husband, Ricardo, are Colorado natives, they spent 28 years in Sedona, Ariz., an area known for its eclectic, artsy and high-end retail center.

Lee and Ricardo Gochis returned to Colorado to be near their grandchildren, and Gochis opened Ricardo’s Wife, where she sells designer and custom clothing made in Sedona; hand-woven creations purchased from weavers in Colorado, Taos and California; hand-dyed silk scarves and Native Souls handmade shoes.

Although the store is rich in textiles and atmosphere, even sporting what Gochis references as a Feng Shui corner, Manitou’s humble history is not to be forgotten as Gochis points out the original wall where burros were tied prior to transporting the tourists to the top of Pikes Peak.

Gochis’ shop has been open for seven months, and she, too, is experiencing a successful summer, hoping the locals will keep the momentum going year round.

Another Colorado native and Manitou transplant searched nationwide for a year to find the right spot to open her first retail store, which features a wide selection of herbs along with other goods like jewelry and incense.

Mari Marques was living in Boulder, where the commercial rent did not line up with her budget. “One day, when I was walking through Manitou, I saw this shop, looked in the window and said ‘this is it.’” The space wasn’t open at the time, but a patient Marques waited for her retail dream spot, and opened The Thyme Keeper a year ago. She misses her friends in Boulder, but she said Manitou is a special place that beckons people from all walks of life.

Kinfolks Mountain Outfitters is no exception to the far-flung ideas relative to Manitou business owners. Clemens called Kinfolks Manitou’s Planet Hollywood. Kinfolks owners Todd and Lisa Walton lure outdoor enthusiasts who also have a penchant for beer.

Only in Manitou would you find a retail store that offers a micro-brew bar headlining music Wednesday through Saturday evenings, bicycles and bicycle equipment and climbing, hiking and camping gear and garb. Kinfolks opened June 15, and employee Dan Russell said the locals have embraced the out-of-the-ordinary retail store/brew pub.

Other new additions to Manitou are Bearworks, a build-your-own-bear factory housed inside the Mountain West Clothing Co., Mountain Living Studio, a gallery representing over 83 Colorado artists and Santa Fe Springs, an extension of the original Santa Fe Springs store located in Old Colorado City. Sugar Magnolia’s, an ice-cream shop, moved to a new location in Manitou and expanded to a restaurant and bakery.

Clemens said she has received positive feedback from the shop owners concerning the district’s mission and its efforts to promote Manitou.

“The business district is taking baby steps and leveraging our funds with sponsor opportunities and cooperative partnerships,” Clemens said.

Meanwhile, the new businesses are leveraging Manitou’s appeal and its standing as a hot spot for day or weekend browsing, shopping and dining.

- Marylou.Doehrman@csbj.com