Community Threads: Tying Leadville Together
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
If you’ve been around Leadville for any length of time, chances are you know Smokey. And if you don’t know the man, then you may be familiar with Community Threads, Leadville’s Thrift & Consignment Shop, created by Mark “Smokey” Burgess eight years ago.
In the great tradition of countless business owners before him, Smokey has been pedaling his goods and wares on historic Harrison Avenue for years. Add to that his modern-day, grub-staking approach, more commonly known as consignment, and you have a recipe for success that has grown into a bigger, new location. So take note, shoppers and vendors! It’s an “on-your-left,” for cyclists, runners and burro racers, as the retail-and-trail guru can now be found at the new Community Threads location at 609 Harrison Avenue in downtown Leadville. Colo.
Fortunately, outdoor enthusiasts won’t have to venture very far from the old digs, to find some of the best, used sporting equipment, new and re-purposed clothing, and local and state gift goodies all gathered in one spot. Community Threads keeps it pretty simple, and maybe that adds to the store’s sustained success in a town that sees businesses come and go with the seasons. Besides, Smokey has a secret weapon that keeps his threads tied to the community.
“People make money off of me!” Burgess said in a recent interview with Leadville Today. “I write a lot of checks to people!”
In fact, the consignment portion of his business has grown substantially over the years. And for locals, that can be a lifeline for keeping the bills paid, especially during the “off-season,” in a mountain town where it could be weeks in between paychecks.
“People will come in and ask, do I have anything on my (consignment) account?” says Burgess, who then answers, “Yes, you have $25. And they’ll be like, ‘yes, gas money!’”
It’s a business approach that bodes well in this legendary mining community. After all, the famous Horace and Augusta Tabor, Leadville’s first storekeepers, used that same model, providing early prospectors with enough food, equipment and whiskey for a month, to try their luck at mining. Of course, this old west form of consignment saw a sizeable kick back to the Tabors when the prospectors hit pay-dirt, attributing to a large portion of their wealth.
But all dreams start small and grow over time, whether you’re a Burgess or a Tabor. Smokey explains the humble beginnings of Community Threads:
“I was working out at the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, and one afternoon I was skiing with Brian Feddema (owner of Leadville’s bike shop, Cycles of Life). He said he was moving the bike shop, and I was like, ‘Wow, so that space will be open? That’s a great spot to start a business.’”
It was 2009 and Burgess was tired of working for other people. So with a small savings, along with some help and encouragement from an old girlfriend, Community Threads opened its doors across the street from the Lake County Courthouse. Smokey planned and modeled his new business after a used-gear shop that he frequented in Gunnison, Colo.
Like many Pb-Bizs, the start-up phase was filled with lessons learned and countless challenges. But as the eight years ticked by, the front-and-center store location had not only become a major retail player on the avenue, but also a gathering place for trail runners and baby-strolling mamas, all sharing information about course conditions and the news of the day.
It may come as a surprise to some, but Burgess is more than just the consignment-shop-guy. In fact, Smokey is quite comfortable on the winner’s podium concerning any number of athletic challenges, his most recent passions leaning towards Burro Racing. This dynamic duo of retail-and-trail knowledge puts Smokey’s successful business formula at the top of the charts for anyone considering hanging an OPEN sign in Leadville Today. It’s really not that complicated, but like most things, follow-though and putting one’s proverbial nose-to-the-grindstone are just the entrepreneurial facts of life.
By 2017, Community Threads had expanded considerably, even breaking through to the rarely used former banquet space, originally occupied by the Chinese restaurant. However, even that added retail area could not keep up with the growing demand.
“I had to start turning away a lot of great gear for consignment,” said Burgess, discussing the reason behind his recent re-location to 609 Harrison Avenue. And while further expansion was one of the motivators for the recent move, it wasn’t the only catalyst. In fact, it may have been last summer’s red-hot real estate market that created the tipping point.
While it was only last month that the historic Emmett Building (the shop’s former location) officially sold to a new owner, prior to that, an unreasonable jump in tax assessment had the former owner jacking-up everybody’s rent. From the commercial, street-level spaces, to the residential units on the second floor, the speculative sticker shock had arrived on Harrison Avenue.
And while that situation has (slightly) corrected itself, it was that determination by the Lake County Assessor’s office, explains Burgess, which set into motion a series of events that had Smokey keeping his eye out for a different location to house his burgeoning thrift & consignment shop.
“Even though I really didn’t want to move, I knew I had to take advantage of it,” Burgess said, sharing one of the endless decisions today’s business owners have to make. And while he did initially consider the 609 address, at that point “it wasn’t an option for what they were asking.” However, with a little rent negotiation assistance from Mike Bordogna with the Leadville/Lake County Economic Development Corporation, the deal was sealed. Although with hindsight, Community Threads may have been destined to be in its new location all along.
It was early morning, in late October when LT met up with Smokey in his new location. He was finishing up some interior painting. However, that was not the first time he had done that same chore, on those exact walls. Back then, it was for his friend, and business mentor Fritz Howard, owner of one of Leadville’s most successful home-grown businesses, Melanzana.
In fact, many may remember when the “soulful,” micro-fiber manufacturer was housed right there at 609, for years.
“I painted this for him when he was moving Melanzana in here,” Smokey reminisced. “I told Fritz, ‘You’ll never fill this space up!’ And two years later he was full.”
More than likely, that same sentiment will be echoed about Community Threads, as the new retail space doubles its size! And while that’s good for business, and good for Smokey, it’s also real good for Leadville, and all of its Community Threads.
Congratulations, Smokey! #AllTheBest in your new location and the #NextChapter!
Mark “Smokey” Burgess lives in Leadville with his wife Erin Farrow who is an Art Teacher in the Leadville schools, contributing her own beautiful talents to Leadville Today. Community Threads is located at 609 Harrison Avenue in downtown Leadville. They are open Monday – Thursday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Sundays 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Readers can connect on Facebook, or by phone at 719-486-4000.
Writer Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, A Media Company located in Leadville, Colorado which publishes LeadvilleToday.com and SaguacheToday.com. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She moved to Leadville as a journalist in 1990.
Monks Blessed Land in Leadville on Monday
Land Blessing by Tibetan Monks in Leadville Today
If you hear the sounds of long, sonoric chants coming from the old Hitchin’ Post on Highway 91 north of Leadville Today (Aug. 28), don’t be too alarmed. While the dilapidated building, in its recent state, has been giving new meaning to the phrase “run-down old motel,” that’s all about to change. To mark the occasion of the transformation, on Monday, Aug. 28, the Gaden Shartse Buddhist Monks will be conducting a land blessing at the property located at 3164 Hwy 91, formally known as the Hitchin’ Post Motel.
Rev. Lisa Giroux has purchased the property with her husband Jeff and they have big plans for the area, including leveling the old motel and remodeling the former caretakers cabin. But first the couple has invited the Monks who are visiting in neighboring Aspen this summer, to conduct a Land and Community blessing. The Land Blessing will be today at 5 p.m., so plan some extra time to get there and get situated. The public is invited, with an offering being collected by donation. Dress for the weather and attendees are asked to bring their own chairs.
Rev. Lisa Giroux is a self-described Modern Mystic and is well known as a Reiki Master Teacher, practicing in Lake County for decades. The couple’s newly formed company – River and Willows LLC – will be offering a variety of services, including intimate marriage ceremonies under the name Tiny Weddings.
Questions? Contact Rev Lisa Giroux. 719.293.4157 or email@example.com.
About The Monks, from their website:
Gaden Shartse Monastic College is situated amid lush green hills and jungle in the remote countryside of southern India. It was founded in 1969 as an effort to re-establish one of the great monastic traditions of Tibet. A small group of elder monks and fifteen young boys, all of whom had managed to escape the destruction in Tibet, settled on land given to them by the Indian government in Mundgod, Karnataka.
Today the college is at the forefront of the revival of Tibetan Monastic education, with more than 1600 resident students, teachers, scholars, and spiritual practitioners. More than 70% of the members are between the ages of 10 and 25 and 80% of these were born in Tibet. To this day, young monks arrive at the Monastery weekly from Tibet, seeking shelter and education. Due to the success of the academic program and the quality of the teachers at the monastery, Gaden Shartse has established a reputation as being the leader in the field of Buddhist and Tibetan studies.
Leadville Community Market Kicks Off Saturday
The Leadville Community Market is kicking off its 2017 season, on Saturday, Aug. 19 in the First Mountain Bank parking lot in downtown Leadville. The weekly gathering features fresh, seasonal produce as well as crafts and creations from local artisans and businesses. It’s a great place for locals and visitors to meet for a BBQ treat or sometimes, live music!
Leadville Today is a proud sponsor of the Leadville Community Market which continues August 19 thru September 23 on Saturdays from 9 a.m. til 2 p.m. Make sure to connect with them on the Leadville Community Market Facebook Page or email – firstname.lastname@example.org. Get ready to come out for some community fun on historic Harrison Avenue!
Tour Businesses Down Shift Schedules
As the summer season slowly comes to a more manageable pace for residents and local businesses, schedules are adjusted. And so it goes for several tourist-related operations in Leadville. Of course, there’s still plenty of fairer weather before the winter sets in for good, but be aware of the following changes and opportunities when educating visitors about their choices, as things shift into leaf-peeping season.
The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum (NMHFM) announced yesterday that the Matchless Mine will be closed Fridays after Labor Day, September 4. The Matchless Mine will remain open for tours Saturday through Thursday during September, and then will finally close for the season October 8.
Guided surface tours begin at 1, 2, and 3 p.m., and self-guided surface tours are available anytime from noon until 4:45 p.m. when the historic site is open. Payment for tours must be in cash at the mine or by credit card at the NMHFM. Group tours will still be conducted on Fridays during September. Group tours any day of the week must be arranged in advance with the staff of the NMHFM.
The Matchless Mine is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is significant because of the large amount of silver mined there in the 19th century and its association with Silver King Horace Tabor and his wife, Elizabeth “Baby Doe” Tabor.
Visitors will have the opportunity to watch HistoriCorps work parties rehabilitating the 125-year-old wooden head frame September 12-24. The iconic head frame looms above the last remaining open mine shaft at the site and was used to raise and lower miners and materials. HistoriCorps is a non-profit organization dedicated to engaging volunteers in preserving and sustaining historic structures on public lands (including on private lands accessible to the public) for future generations.
The Matchless Mine is located 1.25 miles east of Leadville’s Harrison Avenue on 7th Street/County Road 3. It is an integral part of the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum. The mission of the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum is to tell the story about mining, its people, and its importance to the American public. Information about the Matchless Mine and the head frame rehabilitation project can be accessed at the NMHFM website.
All Aboard for Fall Colors Weekends
Coming off one of its most successful summer season to date, the Leadville Colorado and Southern Railroad is shifting its gears to its one-a-day schedule. During the weekdays – Monday thru Friday – the train provides daily trips at 1 p.m. On the weekends the popular attraction still maintains it’s two trips at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., with special Fall Photo Weekends planned for September 9 &10, September 16 & 17, and September 23 & 24.
One noteworthy special ride is the Stork-Curve Climax BBQ Train Ride on Friday, Sept.1. This ride goes to the end of the line, giving passengers a vantage point and view they don’t get to see on the regular train ride. Add to that some award-winning BBQ for an evening ride and it’s #AllAboard for the last hurrah of summer! Please note that this ride usually sells out, so make your reservations today. The Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad closes for the season in early October, with its last trip on Sunday, Oct. 8.
“Help Wanted:” Shortage of Workers Hits Home
As the high country heads into the thick of the tourist season, Leadville and Lake County businesses have been experiencing a smaller and smaller labor pool to draw from. And while that may be good news for the workers, for small businesses who rely on the extra help to get through the busiest part of the year, the next several weeks could prove more challenging than they have in years.
According to the Labor Market Info website, while the national unemployment rate stands at 4.4%, in Colorado that number drops even further to 2.3%. And for Leadville business owners looking to fill their staff positions for the height of the busy tourist season, that number is a stark reality!
“I’m not fully convinced anyone even wants to work anymore for a fair wage,” stated one Leadville business owner whose “Help Wanted” sign has been on standby for its regular window appearance since the beginning of the summer season. “Between a shortage of people who want to work, and a housing shortage for those I can recruit, it’s going to be challenging to get through the rest of the busy summer season and maintain the quality of service my customers expect.”
Statistic from the Colorado Labor Market Information website show that right behind the heavy-hitter employers like Freeport-McMoran’s Climax Mine, it’s the seasonal need from retail stores that have the highest number of job openings. From Safeway, to Kum-n-Go, to Shopko, it’s the re-stocking of shelves and the cashier jobs needed to ring up your purchase that seem to remain unfilled.
One Leadville restaurateur, who asked to remain anonymous, stated that “if I hear one more applicant tell me that they can work at Wendy’s for $13.50/hour plus benefits, I’m gonna scream. While I can’t compete with the bigger companies over in Summit and Eagle, I do offer a decent wage in a local business that treats its employees fair and decent. But I don’t know if that’s enough anymore.”
A quick check with the Leadville Colorado Workforce Center echoed the same sentiments, adding that there has been a decline in a skilled labor numbers. In other words, it appears that the workers available in the local market are often not meeting up with the requirements from job postings. It’s also a good reminder that this local office is a great resource for busy business owners, to help sort out perspective applicants. If you have a job opening, posting it with the Leadville center can cast the net of possible applicants a bit further, in addition to vetting out those not qualified for the position. It’s a time-saver in both the hiring process, as well as the more time-consuming training process for entry level employees. The Leadville Workforce Center is located at 115 W. 6th Street, upstairs in the McGregor Building. You can also connect with them online HERE.
So locals and visitors may need to pack some extra patience when heading out to the local grocery stores or to enjoy a meal at your favorite restaurant. Buckle up, the busy season is here in Leadville Today!
According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, here is the latest jobs report issued last Friday, July 21, 2017.
Colorado Employment Situation – June 2017
Employers in Colorado added 6,500 nonfarm payroll jobs from May to June for a total of 2,647,000 jobs, according to the survey of business establishments. Private sector payroll jobs increased 6,100 and government increased 400.
According to the survey of households, the unemployment rate was unchanged from May to June at 2.3 percent. The number of people actively participating in the labor force increased 10,300 over the month to 2,969,100 and the number of people reporting themselves as employed increased 10,500 to 2,901,900, causing the number of unemployed to decrease 200. Due to rounding, the unemployment rate was unchanged from May at 2.3 percent.
The national unemployment rate increased one-tenth of a percentage point in June to 4.4 percent. Over the year, the average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased from 33.7 to 34.2 hours and average hourly earnings decreased from $26.80 to $26.75. The largest over the month private sector job gains were in professional and business services, education and health services, and leisure and hospitality. The largest over the month declines were in construction and information.
Over the year, nonfarm payroll jobs increased 54,900, with an increase of 51,600 in the private sector and an increase of 3,300 in government. The largest private sector job gains were in trade, transportation, and utilities, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality. Mining and logging declined over the year. Over the year, the unemployment rate is down one and one-tenth of a percentage point from 3.4 percent.
The number of Coloradans participating in the labor force increased 83,100, total employment increased 113,300 and the number of unemployed decreased 30,300. The national unemployment rate declined from 4.9 percent in June 2016 to 4.4 percent in June 2017.