Reflections and Transitions at High Country Glass
There have been some interesting reports recently about doing business in Leadville. What types of businesses are needed here? How do you make your business grow? What is the formula for success for operating a business in the highest incorporated city in North America?
Well, this report tells the story of the recent sale of a successful Leadville establishment. In the most rudimentary of models, the deal was initiated with a friendly wave, and sealed with a handshake over dinner and beer. And maybe, it’s just that simple.
It was 1974 when Don Colburn moved to Leadville in search of the ski bum life; where he also maintained a job at the Climax Mine. But it didn’t take long, as you’ll see repeated later in this story, before the love of a good woman settled down this alpine warrior. Enter Diane, or as most know her around town, “B.” The two got married in 1977, established a home in Leadville, where they raised three wonderful children, and grew a successful business known as High Country Glass and Frame (HCGF).
The Colburns bought the business in 1987 from Hank and Mary Beatty, who had started the glass and frame shop eight years earlier. Unfortunately, the Beattys had to move from Leadville because their son’s health was comprised due to the altitude. Since then, “it’s been a great business, look what it’s done for us!” said B.
And certainly, those 28 years have seen some lean times, like when the Climax Mine shut down in the late 1980s and many people picked up and left. But, like the Colburns, there were also those who stayed and pushed through those “bust” times.
“We really appreciate the support of the Leadville people over the past 28 years,” said Don Colburn in an interview with Leadville Today this summer. “The people and businesses have been great to us.” Colburn went on to add that HGCF did all the glass in the Tabor Grand, the Delaware Hotel, the brew pub on East 7th, and the doors of the courthouse.
Any guesses as to the biggest piece of glass Colburn replaced? It was a 72” x 130” front pane window at the historic Tabor Opera House. About 15 years ago a fierce wind blew it out!
It’s the glass of HCGF, which makes up about 80% of the business. And while Lake County is HCGF’s main area, their service went far beyond into neighboring Rocky Mountain communities.
However the framing component to the business, not only provides a valuable service to the local community, but B’s experience and education has allowed for thousands of historic photos and documents to be preserved. She recalled two particularly meaningful projects, one involved restoring and framing hundreds of historic photos from the Masonic Lodge in Leadville.
More recently B framed the huge promotional posters found during recent renovation work at the Tabor Opera house. The multi-piece advertisements were used to showcase upcoming acts at the famous venue.
So what does the future hold for the Colburns, what would their billboard look like? It’ll be traveling, going to see the grandbabies (their fifth is due in October) . . . and B adds firmly, maybe not shoveling as much snow!
Selling a Leadville Business
The Colburns had High Country Glass and Frame listed on and off for four years; three of those, “very non-eventful years.” And while they had several people look at the business, it wasn’t for them, explained Colburn.
“We wanted the right people,” explained Don Colburn. “People who appreciated Leadville, who wanted to service Leadville, and enjoy being here.” On June 18, that handshake over dinner and beer was formalized with the transfer of ownership of High Country Glass and Frame.
So, Leadville, if you haven’t already, meet Jake and Marybeth.
Jake Harrison and Marybeth Brown have lived in Leadville nearly two years. They have been married for five years, with one rescued, blue-heeler named Casey to complete their family. Prior to Leadville, the couple lived in Lake Placid, N.Y.
This is where the aforementioned parallel ski-bum-meets-good-woman-and-settles-down story the former and current owners share comes in. However, for Harrison, the ski-bum thing turned into a professional athletic career, spending years on the skiing circuit in Lake Placid, N.Y., culminating at the Winter X Games VI, VII, and VIII. But like Colburn, it eventually led to the “love of my life,” Harrison explained.
Enter Marybeth Brown, who many may recognize as the face behind the local pharmacy counter for the past 1 ½ years. However what some may not know about is her background and passion for fashion and textile design. It’s these creative talents that will lend themselves well to the framing part of HCGF.
Eventually the two married in 2010, and set their sights on moving to Colorado, maybe back to Summit County where Harrison had lived before.
“Come to find out that Summit County has become way over populated and way too expensive,” said Harrison. He added that during a working stint at the “Copy, Copy” in Frisco, he remembered that the people from Leadville who came into the shop were always so nice, so patient. That’s the kind of community I love, that’s where I want to live in!
So the search for home and business began, in Leadville. The couple shared that while they did engage with some of the economic development/relocation services in place locally, in the end, it was a friendly wave hello that stopped Jake and Marybeth in their tracks at the corner of 6th and Poplar Street.
“Don was sitting at the desk, with the front door open, and when we made the stop, he looked up and waved so friendly, with a big smile,” recalled Jake Harrison, imitating the former owner. “And that was it,” he added with the hindsight of knowing how it all turned out. “We’ve just clicked from the beginning.”
The couple does not plan to change any of services that High Country offers, although Brown did mention that she would like to add glass etching and stained glass, a much-needed craft in an old Victorian mining community like Leadville. Eventually Brown will work full-time at the shop, however the new and old owners are currently helping with training and learning the ropes. B will continue on at High Country Glass, to assure a smooth change of hands, as well as share her framing knowledge.
The transition of ownership has gone seamlessly so far, but as Marybeth explained, it’s not just the “passing of the baton,” professionally, but also making time for those personal introductions to people in the community, that make a difference.
“To have them give their blessing to the community, you can’t buy that! It helps us start off on the right foot, because they’re putting their trust in us,” concluded Marybeth Brown.
And that’s certainly a big part of doing business, In The ‘Ville.
Welcome to the wonderful world of business ownership in Leadville! All the Best to You, Jake and Marybeth! And a multitude of gratitude to Don and B Colburn for all their years of service to our community!