Prince of Blades thrives in its edgy niche

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Dorothy Bretag wields one of her favorite weapons, which made it easy for her to decide how to invest an inheritance she received back in 1994.

Dorothy Bretag wields one of her favorite weapons, which made it easy for her to decide how to invest an inheritance she received back in 1994.

Prince of Blades

1641 W. Colorado Ave.

520-9391

Employees: 2.5

Years in business: 19

Dorothy Bretag grew up during the golden age of swashbuckling films like The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Mark of Zorro and The Prisoner of Zenda. If sword-fighting was involved, she made sure her dad had movie tickets.

So, when she was trying to decide how to invest her inheritance in 1994 and her youngest daughter asked what she loved most, Bretag didn’t have to think about the answer.

“Swords,” the 73-year-old Bretag said from the storefront of her 19-year-old shop, Prince of Blades at 1641 W. Colorado Ave. “I love swords.”

Prince of Blades is a tiny storefront stuffed with novelties like masks and sword-fighting paraphernalia from movies like Braveheart, 300 and The Gladiator. There are swords, throwing knives, hunting knives, small crossbows and blades hidden inside writing pens, belt buckles and lipstick cases.

They range in price from $30 to more than $500.

“It’s always fun to see the look on people’s faces when they come in here for the first time,” said Bretag’s daughter, Becky Taylor. “They can’t believe how much is in here.”

Prince of Blades is a family business. Dorothy’s son, Ken Bretag, is the assistant manager. Dorothy opened the business with her husband, Mel, who died in April 2012.

“He died on April Fool’s Day,” Ken said. “It’s exactly the day he would have picked if he could have picked it.”

When he was just 5 years old, Ken learned to sharpen blades from his dad. And that has been a big part of the business.

A sign outside the little store says, “Sharpening While-U-Wait.”

“There are a lot of times we don’t have any sales at all,” Ken said. “Then it’s the service — the sharpening — that keeps us going.”

This time of year, people start bringing in their garden tools for sharpening.

“You can be out there digging away and never know why it’s so hard if you don’t think about sharpening your tools,” Taylor said.

A couple weeks ago, Dorothy said she had a stack of 15 shovels sitting by the cash register to be sharpened — and people started going through them thinking they were for sale.

The sharpening business is busy in the summer with chainsaw blades and in the fall with hunting equipment. Year-round, hairdressers bring their scissors and chefs bring their cooking knives for sharpening.

That’s a part of the business that is never particularly slow, Ken said. And it’s something that has given the unassuming Westside shop an edge as a small business.

“People come down here from Denver and Pueblo and all over to have their blades sharpened,” Dorothy said.

There was even a Saudi Arabian man who, a couple times, sent his tools, which were used for taking dents out of car panels, from the Middle East. There has been some other unusual out-of-state sharpening business, Dorothy said. But she never thought to ask people how they found out about the Prince of Blades or why they picked the shop.

While the sharpening is a good constant in the business, the merchandise sells. People come in and fall in love with the swords and various blades. Halloween is a busy time of year. The shop’s small stock of high-quality masks and real swords make it a favorite in the fall.

“Everything we have sells eventually,” Ken said.

Some items sell out quickly, particularly the little hidden blades, which can sell for less than $15 sometimes.

People often come in to browse and leave with something special. There are a lot of people who just love swords and knives.

That’s the reason Dorothy wanted to invest in the shop.

“I still just love swords,” she said.

Three years ago, she started dueling with an English long sword in Monument Valley Park downtown on Saturdays. Her sword is big and heavy and the events are rigorous.

“Swinging this heavy sword around over my head — it’s a workout,” she said. “When I come home I’m tired. I feel great, but I’m tired.”

The store is a labor of love, Dorothy said. And that’s the real reason it’s still in business 19 years after opening. It’s a small shop catering to a niche audience, but she’s never worried about business.

It has always come. People like her will always love swords, she said.

She originally named the shop Prince of Thieves for the 1991 Robin Hood film. Copyright issues forced her to change it to Prince of Blades.

“It’s a better name anyway,” Ken said. “We don’t have a whole lot of thieves in here, but do have a lot of blades.”