When Jim and Elaine Smith moved their landmark outdoor store, Mountain Chalet, to its new site at 15 N. Nevada Ave., they closed for only one day.
Mountain Chalet shut its doors a bit early on Saturday, May 18, at the Tejon Street location where it’s been for decades. After a frenzy of packing, moving and restocking, it reopened Monday.
The new venue still bears the iconic Mountain Chalet sign and the wood and stained glass front door — although the latter is a facsimile for the moment.
The Smiths will be putting on the finishing touches for the next few weeks, but inside, customers will find the same variety of outdoor gear and then some.
The new store offers 2,000 square feet of additional floor space that allows for movable displays on a single level, and more room for workshops and events.
“It’s just about the right size,” Elaine said. “It gives us elbow room and the ability to add services.”
At the new store, tents will be displayed so customers can crawl inside. Demonstration stations including areas for testing water filtration equipment and stoves will be set up, and there will be room for a technical washing service for equipment and apparel.
An adjacent parking lot offers free parking to customers, accommodating those who need to stay for a few hours for boot fittings. The lot also will host programs, events and demonstrations.
“We’re planning more of those kinds of things,” Elaine said.
The additional space solves a dilemma that existed at the old store.
“It allows us to have inventory on the floor all the time,” she said. “We used to have to put our skis away; now we can keep everything out year round.”
The building is next door to City Rock, which opens up possibilities for joint events.
“There’ll be a great synergy to make this a recreation hub downtown,” she said.
The Smiths are the third owners of Mountain Chalet, which opened in 1968 and became a downtown icon.
When they first discovered it, they were on the way to Taos and made a stop in Colorado Springs.
“We were always looking at these kinds of shops, just because we had a wild idea that we might own one, one day,” Elaine said.
The Smiths had completed projects in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., where Jim was working on a strategic development plan for Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and Elaine was doing fundraising and had built an altitude running track.
Jim was well versed in operating retail businesses, having grown up in a family that ran several stores.
The couple was looking to make a change and put down roots in Colorado.
“We walked into the store and thought, ‘Wow, this is really cool, this could be it,’” Elaine said. “We loved the sense of community and when we met the staff, how they responded to us, and we loved the community here in Colorado Springs.”
They approached then-owner Dan Foster, who didn’t have the store on the market but said he’d consider selling it. After reaching an agreement, the Smiths bought the store in 2015.
They didn’t make many changes at first.
“It was going strong; what we were able to do was improve on that,” she said.
After getting to know their customer base, they expanded inventory, enhanced the website and brought in more events and workshops. They added what Elaine calls hero shows — presentations by people who have done “amazing feats that we only dare to dream about” — and how-to events such as an avalanche survival class.
Event offerings have increased to three or four a month. Events scheduled for June include a showing of “The Middle Way,” a film and slide show with mountaineer Joe Grant; and a seminar with Backpacker Magazine’s Randy Propster.
“The business keeps growing every year,” Elaine said. “We’re working hard to bring in new customers as well as continuing with our loyal customers. … Sometimes it can be intimidating to come into a shop like this, but we love to have everybody, no matter what level, and we have seen an increase in the younger age sets coming in and being introduced to different sports.”
Being a good member of the community is also important to the Smiths, who are involved in organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Field Institute and Pikes Peak Climbers Alliance.
“A lot of the times at the workshops we’ll have raffles, and the proceeds go to the nonprofits we’re working with,” Elaine said. El Paso County Search and Rescue benefits from twice-a-year VIP nights that feature special sales for loyal customers.
Moving the store was a challenge and not something for any business to take lightly, she said.
“We took a long time to make sure this is a good move for us — where we would be, who we would be next to,” she said. “It takes a lot of preparation and a lot of analysis.”
The Smiths’ research included consultations with other retailers through the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, a network of stores throughout the country, as well as the Downtown Partnership and local stores.
“This is going to be for the next 50 years,” she said.
Location: 15 N. Nevada Ave.
Contact: 719-633-0732; mtnchalet.com