Leechpit moving to new digs

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An anchor of the Colorado Springs underground is pulling up stakes to make room for bigger things.

Vintage clothing, music and outsider art-shop The Leechpit has occupied a quaint spot at 708 N. Weber St. since the day Johnny Cash died in September 2003. Owner Adam Leech is moving the store this month to 802 N. Nevada – the former home of Springs counter-cultural institution Toons Music and Books.

While the cozy quarters add to the charm of The Leechpit, the business will benefit from increased space at the new digs. Its Weber address has only about 900 square feet of working floor room, and the store has clearly outgrown the space.

It feels crowded when more than three shoppers are inside, and piles of clearance items and records have to be stored out of sight. The new location is nearly 2,600 square feet, with a ceiling about four feet higher.

“The increased ceiling space will help to drive sales,” Leech said. “Some of our best sellers are up high; they come straight off the wall. We’re thinking about installing a dry cleaner-style clothesline so people can pull them right down.”

Leech and his wife Heather are the only two employees, but he said if the new location means bigger sales, he’d look at taking on some help. Right now his main concern is what to do with the house on Weber.

All of the “pop culture, music and fashion from the last century” will be moving to the old Toons building, which The Leechpit is renting from Colorado College. Leech has a mortgage on the Weber house, and plans to turn it into a museum of folk art and oddities from his personal collection.

“I buy things for a quarter and then sell them for 10 bucks; that’s the nature of my business, and that’s why I don’t like bad margins,” he said. “So while I’m a little nervous about how I’m going to pay the mortgage, I don’t want to sell the house for a loss and I don’t want to rent it.”

Leech thinks he can turn it into the kind of roadside attraction people driving within 50 miles might pull over and pay a few dollars to see. He hopes to supplement that income through general community support with concerts, garage sales, potluck fundraisers and by hosting events for the local whittling and quilting clubs he’s involved with.

That may sound like a long-shot, but anyone who has been to The Leechpit can attest to its unique atmosphere. According to Leech, people haven’t seen the half of it, and he said you won’t have to be a counter-cultural enthusiast to appreciate it.

“We’ll have local student art on display, (performer and artist) Daniel Johnston originals, I have more Jermaine Rogers prints than I can store,” he said. “I have a five-foot tall Roger Daltrey (of rock band The Who) pinball wizard painting, Black Panther art, hobo carvings and a vintage 3-D Mona Lisa. These things deserve to be on display.”

Leech said his store has performed admirably through the downturn, and if it weren’t for the move he wouldn’t have any reason to stress.

“Things are picking up, I’m noticing that our customers are a little less reluctant lately,” he said. “We’ve ridden this line for seven years because the economy has just refused to cooperate. We certainly didn’t expect a full decade of this. But the last six months have been better, and if they hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have been able to make this move.”

Leech is a Colorado Springs native, and his close ties to the community and all-inclusive local mindset are what keep his business humming. Last Saturday, Springs-resident Brad Stephens was digging through a crate of old vinyl records at the Leechpit when his eyes lit up.

“Some of this stuff I haven’t seen in years,” he said. “I had these records when I was a kid!”

Stephens bought nearly $100 worth Iron Maiden and Motley Crue records.

“Great start to my day,” Stephens said on his way out.

“Mine too, man!” Leech shouted after him. “What I do feels good. It sounds silly, but a big pile of Iron Maiden records can help people live right.”

Leech, it appears, is living right.

Later the same day, a man came in off the street and asked for a free shirt. Leech wheeled out a barrel of free clothes he keeps on the porch for needy families. “I’m going to try and hook up with some non-profits in the area so we can deliver this stuff directly to where it needs to go,” he said.

With its proximity to Colorado College, and soon to be in a building owned by the school, North Nevada Avenue might be the ideal spot for the new Leechpit.

“(Colorado College) strives to be the best liberal arts school in the country, and I think our presence creates the kind of climate that appeals to big-city kids,” Leech said. “We can really help to promote the arts and culture in this town that will make kids want to go to school here.”

The move also helps the college fill a vacant building that was starting to look run-down. Toons owner Eric Verlo’s other interests had him keeping increasingly irregular business hours, and eventually the store stopped opening its doors.

“We’re working with the shell of an old gas station, and there’s going to be some spots where we’ll have to put the paint on extra thick,” Leech said. “But it just needs a little love and a little elbow grease. And a new window.”

Whatever it needs, moving into the old Toons building is a dream come true for Leech. He shopped at Toons as a kid, and got his first job cleaning and alphabetizing CDs and dusting shelves as a 15-year-old.

“I was a gopher, the snot-nosed punk that dreams of owning the record store,” he said. “I just jumped when I heard the building was available. I tried to get it before but nothing worked out, but I always wanted to be a part of that place.”