Let’s take a walk on the lighter side of the local business scene. We’ve had enough heavy topics lately with the election, discord among City Council, who’s running (or not) for mayor and what’s being done (or not) to help our local economy keep up with the constant good news coming out of Denver and the northern Front Range.
Today, let’s take on a different topic that’s been percolating for me — if only as a good conversation starter.
How would you answer the following question:
What are some of the most popular local-owned businesses in Colorado Springs? The key there is local-owned, but also obviously for-profit, directly serving the general public.
We could try to name just one, but that doesn’t seem fair, with so many categories having so little in common. But it seems useful to make a list, mainly to shine fresh light on worthy businesses that, despite their popularity, don’t normally receive this kind of recognition.
Before sharing my list, I’ll freely acknowledge that anyone else could come up with their own choices and be able to justify them. But I do feel qualified to tackle this subjective assignment, having lived most of the past four decades in and around Colorado Springs, coming here as an innocent 24-year-old in the summer of 1977 and evolving as a consumer, homeowner, parent and working professional through my 30s, 40s, 50s and now early 60s.
Here’s one example of how longevity can have an influence: Within a week of my arrival in ’77 at The Gazette (then Gazette-Telegraph), fellow staff members took me to a pair of trendy downtown-area spots on Tejon Street. One was José Muldoon’s; the other was Pizza Plus (now Panino’s, but with the Frasca family still in charge). Several years later, Muldoon’s owner Dave Lux added the first local Old Chicago — longtime residents still salivate at the memory of its pasta bar.
All still operate at the same locations today. But do they have a clientele broad enough to be regarded among Colorado Springs’ most popular businesses? Probably not, just as Tony’s Bar wouldn’t, or the Ritz Grill, SouthSide Johnny’s and others, though regulars at those places would likely nominate them.
So with all that perspective in mind, including the inescapable conclusion that size matters, here’s a handful of nominations:
• Heuberger Motors Inc. Since Pete and Carolyn Heuberger started it in 1970, the company has grown steadily and has been the nation’s largest-volume Subaru dealer since 2007. That means anyone can find a good deal, a warm welcome and consistent service. You also might find the same salesperson you worked with on your previous car. If ever there were a case of success breeding success, Heuberger is that.
• Bristol Brewing Co. Long before craft beer became the Next Big Thing nationally, Mike Bristol started his operation in June 1994. Soon, his beers were a hit across Colorado Springs, in liquor stores as well as other bars. Everyone seems to have a favorite, whether it’s Laughing Lab, Compass IPA, Beehive, Red Rocket, Mass Transit, Winter Warlock or the annual Venetucci Pumpkin Ale. Bristol has built his brand by emphasizing quality control as well as being a major community booster, and his new headquarters at Ivywild School is sublime.
• Phil Long Auto Group. Obviously, car dealers have an edge in this discussion because of their broad appeal. Thousands of customers have stayed with Phil Long Ford through the years, in no small part because of Ford cars, but also because of the dealership’s advertising (who hasn’t seen Jay Cimino’s ads, or those with ex-Bronco Randy Gradishar?) and support of area charities.
• Ent Federal Credit Union. From its beginnings here in 1957, the credit union named after former Air Force Maj. Gen. Uzal Girard Ent has mushroomed into a huge company with locations in Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Denver. Buy a car at many local dealers, and you’ll likely wind up financing it through Ent, as many thousands have done.
• The Broadmoor. Aside from the acclaimed five-star resort being a source of pride for the region, it’s also widely revered as the place to celebrate special occasions and to impress visitors. For those who haven’t checked out the renovated Broadmoor West with its Ristorante Del Lago (in the former Charles Court spot), you really should around the holidays.
The common threads are simple: These businesses connect with the public through advertising and marketing, service, return customers, positive image, actually all of the above.
But this is not to say others don’t belong. Your opinion is worth as much as mine, so feel free to share any others who deserve to be included.
The point is, we can learn from the businesses that are successful and popular. They’ve obviously been doing a lot right — and still are.