Downtown business pulse still beats on Tejon Street

Filed under: News |

Julie Koontz works at one of the newest businesses on Tejon, Idoru, which opened in 2005.

Just a few years after the city’s founding, Tejon Street had become the place to be for retailers, banks, grocery stores and merchants of all description.

In the 1898 “Colorado Springs Blue Book,” the social register of the day, there were numerous ads for Tejon Street businesses.

Charles Emery, photographer, was at 15 South Tejon. “It’s fun to have your picture taken at Emery’s.”

At the corner of Tejon and Bijou, Masi Candies advertised confections, candies, ice cream, ice cream soda and salads.

Grau & Hiltebrand sold pianos at 123 N. Tejon, while across the street at 112 the Keystone Grocery and Provision Co. advertised not only groceries, but services: “Your shirt washed with ‘C’ soap while you wait!”

The Perkins Crockery Co. sold lamps, dinnerware and glassware at 108 N. Tejon.

And a few doors up at 130, A.O. Downs Bicycles invited all and sundry to “Come see the wonder of the year, the Chainless Columbia.”

At 318 N. Tejon stood “The Best Restaurant in Colorado Springs” Madame Thiebaud’s Cafe Francais.

More than a century later, Tejon is still downtown’s premier location, a vibrant, busy mix of restaurants, bars, clubs, coffee shops, banks, sporting goods, jewelers, clothiers and retailers of all description.

Madame Thiebaud’s is long gone but, next door at 320 N. Tejon, Poor Richard’s has been open for business since 1978.

On a recent sunny afternoon, the Business Journal conducted an informal survey of today’s Tejon Street.

As of last week, there were 71 retailers, bars and restaurants located on Tejon between Boulder Street and Colorado Avenue. Nine storefronts were vacant.

The northwest corner of Tejon Street and Pikes Peak Avenue has been the site of a bank since 1881. The top photo shows First National Bank, circa 1910. Chase occupies the space today.

There’s no shortage of banks — the intersection of Pikes Peak Avenue and Tejon, the historic heart of the city, features a bank on every corner.

The northwest corner, 1 N. Tejon, is a site that has been continuously occupied by a bank since 1881.

Vivian Novis is the longest-tenured business owner on Tejon Street. She opened Novis Gallery in 1960.

The longest-tenured business owner, Vivian Novis of Novis Gallery, opened her shop in 1960. The most recent arrival, the Guinea Pigg, moved in eight weeks ago, after nearly 30 years in Old Colorado City.

Thirty-three businesses have been in their present location for less than six years; while nine have been open for 30 years or more.

Shewmaker’s, selling camera and photographic equipment since the 1930s, is Tejon’s senior retailer.

Like New York’s Madison Avenue, Tejon Street has remained viable by welcoming and surviving change.

Once the commercial center of the Pikes Peak region, downtown Colorado Springs began a decline in the early 1960s as residents and businesses fled the city’s center for the suburbs.

The Whickerbill’s John Eastham, in business downtown since 1959, reminisces about the chaos of the ’70s.

He shakes his head in amused dismay. “Do you remember the old Star Bar next door (the current site of Hathaway’s)?” he asked. “The drunks, the drugs, the hookers — I don’t know how we survived.”

By the 1980s, downtown began to revive.

Department stores closed, to be replaced by specialty boutiques. Family restaurants such as Ruth’s Oven were succeeded by fashionable watering holes like the Ritz.

And during the last few years, long-time club operators Sam and Kathy Guadagnoli have transformed two blocks of Tejon into the city’s premier nightlife destination.

According to Sam Guadagnoli, as many as 5,000 20- and 30-somethings pass through the doors of the two Tejon Street mega-clubs, Rum Bay and The Vue, on a summer weekend.

Tejon’s premier retail area is often identified as the 200 block, opposite Acacia Park. Of the longest-tenured Tejon retailers, four are located there; Mountain Chalet (1968), The Whickerbill (1959), Novis Gallery (1960) and Hathaway’s (on Tejon since 1942).

One of the newest, Idoru, opened its doors in 2005.

Terra Verde, catering to an affluent, mainly female clientele with a wide range of products including body lotions, jewelry, clothing, and gifts, opened at 208 N. Tejon in 1992.

The store has been so successful that owners Chris and Gary Sonderman recently acquired and renovated the building next door. Formerly occupied by the Chinook Bookstore, a downtown anchor for decades, the building has been converted into two storefronts. Although the renovation was completed nearly a year ago, the space remains vacant.

Chris Sonderman isn’t worried about the vacant storefronts. “Once we’ve worked out some things, I’m sure that we’ll have them leased very quickly,” she said. “There’s lots of interest.”

Longtime Terra Verde employee Ann Luckett loves working on Tejon Street.

“Where else would you do business in downtown Colorado Springs?” she asked. “Tejon Street is the place to be.”

Adds Sonderman, “We just love what’s happening on Tejon — the (Uncle Wilber) Fountain, the FAC Modern. We do cater to a fairly upscale crowd, but a lot of our less-expensive lines are our best sellers. We try to have a lot of things for $25 or less.”

Hathaway’s proprietor Paul Paquette is less optimistic. After 64 years on Tejon, Hathaway’s is closing this week.

“The last few years have been so bad for business — there was 9/11, and Iraq and all the soldiers leaving,” he said. “Our customer counts are way down. People don’t read as much, and the tobacco tax has hurt. But it’s the same everywhere — there’s just no room for the old-fashioned newsstand, I guess.”

Paquette’s plan for the future: “Get a job!”

Old-timers may mourn the disappearance of Hathaway’s, a living link to the city’s past, but Chris Sonderman, while sorry to see her neighbor close his business, is eager to see what the future brings.

“That’s such a cool little space — somebody’s going to create a really nice business,” she said. “Maybe even a coffee shop, with magazines.

“There are always plenty of people who want to do business on Tejon.”