Blackhat Distillery Montana Horsfall

In every other place Ani Trejo Barrington has lived, her hobby of curating vintage clothes has remained just that — a quirky side hustle relegated to Etsy shops and word of mouth.

That changed after she moved to Colorado Springs and met Peri Bolts, who invited her to join Eclectic CO., a collective of (at the time) 24 southern Colorado-based vendors and artisans. The boutique-style maker’s market was part of 2018’s Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs’ Holiday Pop-up Shop program, which helps applicants find and rent a space to lease for their business during the holiday season.

Word spread among both vendors and shoppers, which ultimately led to Eclectic CO. extending its lease through the summer and beyond.

“Once you connect with one maker, you’re connecting with, like, five other makers,” Barrington said. “I had friends who were doing just strictly online Etsy shops, and when I explained the concept, immediately the next question was, ‘How do I get involved?’”

Now, less than a year after attending her first pop-up market, Barrington balances managing the collective’s Tejon Street storefront with her own creative endeavor, Two Wolves Vintage Clothing.

“We thought we were just going to be a holiday pop-up market, but it turned into a job for me,” Barrington said. “It was kind of a risk but it was totally worth it.”

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Eclectic CO., now up to nearly 60 vendors, is the Colorado Springs craft scene in microcosm. Olympic City USA has quietly established itself as a safe launching pad for makers. Whether that craft is lattes, imperial stouts or handmade home decor, makers who take risks similar to Barrington’s are often rewarded with a thriving business and a camaraderie they say is unique to the Springs.

“Not just our small business, but so many of the other small businesses that started off with us, just found their audience,” Barrington said. “I think [Eclectic CO.] has given other small business owners and other artists a chance to be seen.

“We had so much talent,” she added. “It was all already here, but to have it all pulled into the same bucket is really special.”

Homegrown

The ever-shifting demographics of the Pikes Peak region’s population afford craftsmen a unique opportunity to experiment, innovate and perfect, said Joe Koscove, one of three owners of the newly opened Blackhat Distillery.

“We have a lot of influx of people,” Koscove said. “Some people are going to like it and some people aren’t, but we try to excite as many people as we can.”

Blackhat Distillery officially opened Sept. 20, in a dimly lit space on Industrial Place that once housed the Blue Fish Distillery. Upon hearing a rumor that Blue Fish was closing its doors, Koscove — owner of Koscove Metal and longtime distilled spirit enthusiast — and Matt Bonno of Boxing Brothers Ciderhouse were able to team up with CF&O Accounting President David Varnum to keep the distillery open.

Head distiller Allen Oliver makes his bitters, liqueurs and spirits on-site, bringing a creative touch that is uncommon in the distillation process, said Montana Horsfall, Blackhat’s director. The spirits themselves are also novel. Colorado is, in general “taking distillery to a new level,” Koscove said, but where other distilleries are more whiskey forward, Blackhat’s focus is on agave spirits, aged and flavored rums, and brandy.

“We thought bringing something cool and fun and exciting to the Eastside is what’s needed,” Koscove said. “We have one whiskey that we do produce, but it’s very, very limited. … Everything else is things that no one else is doing.”

Collaboration, not competition

As easy as it is to build your product on what sets it apart, the Springs’ thriving craft scene is due in large part to its collaborative nature, Barrington said.

“That’s a big part of it. We always talk about collaboration over competition,” she said. “We all spend time together, we get to know each other, we hang out at markets together. … It’s giving us connection, community and a chance to really spur each other on with our creativity. … I feel like it’s changing the scene.”

At Eclectic CO., makers and other creative types can commune in one place to exchange ideas, offer moral support or even help promote each other’s work, rather than merely dropping off their products and leaving, she said.

“It’s an easy sell when it’s something that’s by a friend of ours,” Barrington said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m selling your stuff or I’m selling my stuff. It is a win for our community when people are excited about buying local.”

Occupying a brick-and-mortar space has only strengthened those connections, giving way to events like the Womxn of the Future Pop-Up Markets, held twice a year to highlight a diverse community of female-owned businesses that promote sustainable living.

“It’s been so cool to watch that happen for not just me, but for many people, and then to have that give way to more jobs, more creativity, more markets,” Barrington said. “Having a place of stability like this, and having a steady income like this, is exactly what has created more opportunities for the whole Colorado Springs community.”

Koscove and Horsfall, of Blackhat, have found that this holds true in the craft spirit world as well. Four distillers in the Springs community have toured Blackhat so far, and all left with nothing but glowing praise, Koscove said.

“It’s pretty rare if distillers and brewers don’t collaborate,” Horsfall said. “We’re all in it together.

“The Springs is a really cool community and when they see something like this, that’s unique and different — doing rums and agave spirits — they get excited, too,” she added. “It’s very much a collaborative excitement for each other as well.

Finding their identity

In many regards, Colorado Springs is still trying to disentangle itself from the shadow cast by its neighbor to the north. However, Barrington said, Eclectic CO. is one example of Olympic City USA managing to set itself apart.

“Any time you get something like this, where it works, I think it inspires other people. We’ve had friends in Denver who’ve said things like, ‘Man, we want our Eclectic CO.,’ and that’s exciting to me,” Barrington said.

“We’re always like, ‘Oh, we want what Denver has,’ and now I’m like, ‘What? You want what we have?’” she said. “That’s really special.”

Just as many artists and vendors have found their footing at the Tejon Street storefront, places like Eclectic CO. can help Colorado Springs carve out its own unique identity, Barrington said.

“I think we compare ourselves a lot to other cities but, in our own right, places like this help us to establish ourselves,” Barrington said. “We don’t need to look like Denver or Boulder. We need to find our own identity, and I think places like this give us the opportunity to do that.”