Colorado Avenue: Still a place for dreamers

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2012
The Colorado Springs Bike Shop, owned by Ed and Bonnie Johnson, follows the path of similar stores located along Colorado Avenue.

Of all the historic arterials in Colorado Springs, Colorado Avenue in Old Colorado City may have changed least.

It is today what it was in the early 20th century — a broad, tree-lined avenue with residential and commercial users in harmonious coexistence. Then as now, small, locally owned businesses dominated the streetscape, catering both to neighborhood needs and to the city at large.

A 1907 photograph of a Colorado [then Huerfano] Avenue storefront depicts Dern’s Coffee Roasters and Lunchroom next to Stratton & Reade Bicycles and Motorcycles.

Those uses endure. Ed & Bonnie Johnson’s Colorado Springs Bike Shop occupies a spacious building a few blocks west of the long-vanished Stratton & Reade shop, and it’s easy to get lunch or a cup of coffee on the historic boulevard.

Pink Cadillac Boutique is one of the newest businesses on Colorado Avenue, joining restaurants, breweries and other retail outlets.

RENEWAL AFTER RECESSION

When the Johnsons built their 12,000-square-foot bike shop in 2000, they were pioneers. Little new commercial construction had occurred in the 19 blocks between Walnut and 21st streets and many existing buildings were either badly maintained or functionally obsolete.

Thanks to one mild recession and a second severe one, new business formation and expansion slowed to almost nothing until about 2013, when the local economic recovery began to pick up steam.

That recovery is now well underway, and entrepreneurs have taken note.

“The avenue is really strengthening,” said Tom Halfast, an owner of Cerberus Brewery, located just west of the bike shop at 702 W. Colorado, “especially around here.”

Cerberus, whose name and logo are derived from the three-headed dog that guards the gates of the Underworld, had its soft opening Sept. 8. Longtime Westside entrepreneurs Halfast and Jerry Morris own the brewery, joined by Cindy Geiser and Head Brewer Josh Adamski. The latest addition to the city’s exploding craft brewing scene includes a seven-barrel brewing system, a bar with 13 house taps and seven guest taps, a sizable restaurant, a deck with Pikes Peak views and outdoor space for a future beer garden.

Halfast and Morris ran First Choice Printing for 10 years and Century 21 Home Team Real Estate for a total of 22 years, operating from a cottage in the 1000 block of Colorado Avenue. They recently sold the Underground, a legendary downtown nightspot for many years.

They’re old pros in Westside real estate.

“We bought a little rental place at 1306 W. Kiowa in 1992,” Halfast said. “We couldn’t get a mortgage, so the owner carried back. The other day I saw in the paper that it had sold for $194,000 — back in ’92, we paid $28,000.”

They sold the property in 1997 for $84,000, according to the El Paso County Assessors website.

DREAMS DEFERRED?

A block-and-a-half west, Johnny Nolan’s new Westside restaurant/taphouse at 817 W. Colorado has yet to open, although Nolan told CSBJ in February of 2015 that he planned to open it in May of that year. Nolan did not return calls, and the proposed restaurant’s website offered no information.

Nolan, a veteran Colorado Springs restaurateur, owns Southside Johnny’s and the Navajo Hogan.

“We sold Johnny that building, but I don’t know what’s going on now,” said Tim Leigh, a co-founder and part owner of Hoff & Leigh, a firm that specializes in small- to medium-sized commercial properties. “We’ve probably brokered almost all the transactions on Colorado Avenue in the last 24 months.  Most of the transactions are forward-looking. An investor client of ours from Austin is a total believer in Colorado Springs and very interested in buying stuff at the periphery of downtown and riding the wave. He bought the building at 517 W. Colorado and remodeled it into three storefronts. Two are rented already.”

Yet despite interest by investors, the avenue between Walnut and Old Colorado City is still an entrepreneurial boulevard of dreams — broken and otherwise. Unlikely businesses like Prince of Blades — which sells edged weapons from Samurai swords to switchblades — thrive and expand, while others die on the vine.

A few years ago, half a dozen medical marijuana establishments set up shop between I-25 and 21st Street, but only one of the original six remains. Other neighborhood-focused businesses, including a dry cleaner, a laundromat, a veterinarian and an auto repair shop have been in business for decades.

One hopeful new business, Lisa Harrington’s Pink Cadillac Boutique, just opened at 1635 W. Colorado Ave. It’s in a cottage now painted pink and cream to get attention. Parked in front is another example of entrepreneurial ingenuity on the avenue: a beautifully restored pink-and-cream 1960 Cadillac two-door hardtop.

Still others, especially modestly scaled national franchises such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Enterprise auto rental and Dairy Queen, benefit from the avenue’s robust traffic counts.

But according to Leigh, today’s investors and entrepreneurs may not want more traffic and more congestion.

“They’re really excited about plans to re-size the avenue,” said Leigh. “It would be reduced from four lanes to three, with a center turn lane and bike lanes on both sides. That would be great for cyclists and great for business.”