Latest News – May 21

Arise Again: Leadville’s Sayer McKee  

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It was a standing-room-only crowd at the May 20 Grand Opening of the newly renovated Sayer and McKee Building, KW Plaza in downtown Leadville. Standing with his family on the staircase platform to the left is Kyle Welch, ower of KW Restoration and Construction whose vision saw the project to completion after three years. Photo: Leadville Today/ Kathy Bedell

By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today

If you live in Leadville Today, you may remember that fateful night back in late January 2014 when the roof to the iconic Sayer & McKee building collapsed in downtown Leadville under the weight of heavy snow. While the good news was that no one was hurt in the incident, the bad news came that one of Harrison Avenue’s most beloved institutions was gone. Or was it?!

Like a phoenix-from-the-ashes, along with three years of renovation work, the space formally known as 615 Harrison Avenue was officially rededicated last night, May 20 as the Sayer and Mckee Building, KW Plaza in a Grand Opening gala that brought out old-school Leadville to celebrate a part of history brought back to life by a Native Son.

Renovated KW

Ta-Da! Welcoem to the newly renovated Sayer & McKee, KW Plaza building in downtown Leadville. Photo: KW Restoration and Construction.

Kyle Welch, owner of KW Restoration and Construction greeted a standing-room-only crowd, as friends, neighbors and colleagues gathered to commemorate another successful renovation project on Leadville’s main drag. The new building is now two separate units, with the south side already leased to the latest local eatery, The Treeline Kitchen (more on that later).

Guided by Welch’s vision the newly designed space includes a sidewalk plaza complete with fire pit, as well as a rooftop patio with 360 degree views of Colorado’s tallest peaks. High vaulted ceilings showcase the buildings new found strength, as elaborate wooden beams dance across the interior skyline. The details are elegantly industrial from the iron-twisted staircases to the sizeable window panes which act as a wind break for rooftop dining. The building was done right and will be highlighted on an upcoming Discovery Channel special about restoration projects in the United States.

 

But many in the room, this next chapter is particularly sentimental, as they remembered a building that provided so much more than five-and-dime things bought in a drug store. When the retail store first opened its doors in 1940, Leadville was a thriving community whose locals supported 3 drug stores at the time, including Taylor and Davis Drugs, all it seems located within just a few blocks of each other.  It was a fire that consumed Sayer & McKee Drug Store’s first location, the present day site of Pueblo Bank & Trust on the northeast corner of 6th and Harrison.

After the fire, founder Bill McKee relocated the business to the 615 Harrison which had been vacated by Safeway, having moved to its current location north of town. It’s this building that brings back the memories of trips to the “soda shop,” or to buy that perfect birthday gift for a little friend’s party. People got their vacation pictures developed at Sayer & McKee and of course, it was the only pharmacy in Lake County during most of the late 20th century.

During these decades, it was kind and caring owner Tony Hren at the helm, steering the retail ship through the leaner years, as growing competition from the big box stores in expanding, neighboring counties offered jobs, and shopping options, more likely to be found in the bigger, Front Range cities. Eventually, the big chains won out and the historic drug store officially closed its doors on November 30, 2012 after selling the pharmacy component of the business to the Safeway Corporation.

So, as the dust settled after the roof collapse in 2014, many wondered the building’s fate. Could Leadville’s iconic Sayer & McKee arise again? And who could take on such a project, as many main street businesses were simply trying to keep their doors open? The night the roof collapsed, KW crews were called out to secure the situation. In snow-driven freezing conditions, the building and its tightly-close neighbors were stabilized. But many wondered what next, now that Leadville’s main street had a big gap in its smile.

At this point in the Sayer & McKee history, the building was owned by Sharlene Hren, Tony’s widow who had been challenged in subsequent years to find a sustainable tenant for the space. Shortly after the collapse, Kyle met with Sharlene. Welch picks up the story from here during his speech to attendees last night.

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Kyle Welch, owner of KW Restoration and Construction points to one of the new features of the recently renovated Sayer & McKee Building during the Grand Opening Ceremony on May 20, 2017. Pictured here with longtime Leadville residents Chick and Cindi Ritacco.

“I gave her four options about what she could do with the building,” explained Welch, ranging from re-building, to selling, to the option that Welch “really didn’t want her to pick: that he would take over the building.” But Sharlene jumped at the opportunity. And for most Leadvillites, knowing that a Native Son would be the driving force and vision behind the renovation brought new hope for 615 Harrison Avenue.

Kyle Welch grew up here, his parents moving the family to Leadville when he was only 2 ½ years, where he started swinging his first hammer as the Welchs built their new home.

“I was a working kid, always mowing lawns, delivering newspapers or shoveling snow,” Welch shared with an audience of more than 200 attending the Grand Opening. After graduating from Lake County High School in 1982, the same year Climax closed its doors, he noted, Welch went on for studies at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. Upon returning to Leadville, one of his first jobs was laying the sidewalk pavers on Harrison Avenue during the “mill levy-for- sidewalks” project in the late 1980s.

“I removed the old flagstone in front of the opera house. That was tough!” stated Welch.

Eventually after a brief two year stint in California, the Native Son would return to his roots and started KW Restoration and Construction in 1988.

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Rooftop dining awaits customers at Leadville’s latest eatery The Treeline Kitchen at the Sayer & McKee Building.

Now grown to a company who employed 200 workers over the course of the three-year Sayer & McKee renovation project, KW has expanded to include satellite offices in Salida and Colorado Springs. But it’s still Welch’s passion for Leadville that marks his company’s success, evident in the more than $300,000 donated to local causes over their 29 years they’ve been in business.

“You all are very special to me,” expressed Welch as he stood on the stairwell platform along with his wife Susan, and their two daughters Chelsea and Tess; son Jesse who lives in Indiana  as a firefighter, and is expecting Welch’s first grandchild was not able to attend.

But perhaps the most touching moment of the evening came as Kyle addressed his parents, Irene and Gary Welch who were beaming proudly in the front row, while having sadly just lost another Native Son a week before. For those who may not know, Kyle’s brother Brent passed away suddenly just one week before the Grand Opening.

“I’m proud to be your son,” he addressed his parents who have been mainstays in the Leadville community for decades, his father being one of the most beloved band teachers Lake County High School has ever known. As a few tears were wiped away, Welch did not miss a beat, announcing his next project.  

“I see my employees and teachers in Leadville that have nowhere to live,” said Welch, addressing the current housing crisis facing Lake County, as its next Boom cycle starts to kick in. So to remedy that, one of Leadville’s Native Sons will be partnering with a developer out of South Carolina  and also a longtime KW associate “who does good work.” They have bought 34 acres in Lake County and are making plans to build 100 new homes.

“This town needs housing,” concluded Welch to an explosive round of applause.

Yes, yes it does. And it also need a lot more leadership and vision like yours, Kyle. Congratulations to KW, its crew, and family on a heart-felt renovation that will continue to keep Harrison Avenue’s heart beating for many years to come!

Latest News – May 20

Jennifer Brown Welcoem Lake County Winter

Welcome! Welcome to Lake County! It just may feel like we’re giving you the cold shoulder in Leadville Today, but that’s just a spring storm bringing more water for rafting, and fishing, and kayaking, and paddle-boarding! Thanks to LT Contributor Jennifer B. Rogowski Photography for the icing-on-the-cake photo!

FREE Smoke Detectors Installed Memorial Weekend

Leadville Fire and Rescue and the Red Cross will be installing free smoke detectors in the Leadville area Friday, May 26 and Saturday, May 27.

The American Red Cross of Southeastern Colorado will provide the smoke alarms and together with volunteers from Leadville Fire and Rescue and other groups will provide the installation. They will test existing alarms and replace the batteries or the smoke alarm depending on the need. There is also an education component to the install with the entire installation requiring around 15 minutes.

“We hope to install 300 to 500 alarms on those two days,” said Fire Marshal Steve Boyle. “We are hoping that the smoke alarms and the education effort will make our community safer when it comes to home fire safety.

  • What: Home Fire Campaign – Free smoke alarm installation
  • Where: Leadville Area
  • When: Friday, May 26 and Friday, May 27th from 9 AM to 1 PM
  • Point of Contact: Fire Marshal Steve Boyle, 719-486-2990 – firemarshal@leadvillefire.org

If you are in need of new smoke alarms, or if you are someone willing to volunteer to help with the installation/education event please contact Fire Marshall Steve Boyle. 

Red Cross_2About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

Summer Travel Plans? Need A Passport?

The Leadville Post Office will be hosting a Passport Fair today Saturday, May 20 from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.

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Leadville Postmaster Greg Sandoval

“We will process passports on a first come first serve basis,” stated Leadville Postmaster Greg Sandoval. It seems that the other passport offices have been experiencing a backlog, so Sandoval chose to provide this service to Lake County residents as an added benefit.

 On May 20, the regular window hours will close at 11 a.m. and re-open to strictly issue passports. Please make sure you have a certified US birth certificate or naturalization certificate and a Colorado Picture ID. For minors both parents must be present with ID’s unless you have sole custody of the child then documentation is needed. Please have your application completely filled out.

If you need a picture, postal employees will be available to take passport photos for a $15 fee. The processing fee for each passport is $25. This will be paid to the Leadville Post Office. Here are the options and fees. These fees are to be made out to Department of State and they will only accept only a check or money order:

  • A passport book for adults is $110.
  • A passport card for adults is $30.
  • A passport book for minors under 16 years old is $80.
  • A passport card for minors under 16 years old is $15.

Please contact your Leadville Post Office with any questions. 719-486-9397 or in person at 130 W. 5th Street