0927-small-biz-carter-payne

The Carter Payne Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church opened in 1897 as a haven of sorts for people of all creeds, backgrounds and occupations.

A century of shifting demographics, population booms and revolving ownership has left the building at Weber Street and Pueblo Avenue surprisingly unchanged. Guests lounge in armchairs, chatting over bottles of local brew as the late afternoon sun filters in through an arched window. Those who feel so inclined can pluck a used vinyl record from a shelf set up in the former sanctuary’s northeast corner, losing themselves in the sounds of decades past. There is no television, and there never will be, said Melissa Howard, the building’s most recent co-owner.

“We’re not doing piped-in Muzak,” Howard said. “These albums are private collections from people’s homes. They’ve been loved and used. There’s maybe 10 new records in there.”

The “loved and used” description of the Carter Payne venue is apt. The building housed the first black church in Colorado Springs from its inception in 1897 until 1987, when it was sold to a group of real estate investors, who converted it into office space. In the 30 years since, the building has served as a wedding and events venue and a satellite campus for New Life Church.

Now Howard and Jeff Zearfoss, her husband and the building’s co-owner, want to help The Carter Payne’s purpose come full circle.

“If you were in Colorado Springs at the turn of the century, and you were an African-American… this was the place where you laughed together, you cried together, you celebrated together, you mourned together,” said Howard. “If we can get our arms around that and really hold on to that, that would be ideal.”

The husband-and-wife pair envisioned a multi-tenant, multi-use space when they moved into the building in 2017. While Howard described that vision as “a work in progress,” several concepts already have found their footing in the former sanctuary — Immerse Cuisine, a small-plate and snacks eatery owned by Brent Beavers, and Local Relic, the brewery founded in 2014 by Howard, Zearfoss and brewer Grant Goodweiler. The building’s basement, christened The Cellar, is available to rent as a small arts/entertainment venue.

Local Relic’s brewers serve up about 220 beers per year, never repeating recipes. Once a particular brew is sold out, it’s gone for good — but patrons can look forward to something new every time, Howard said.

“We work really hard to design businesses that have a positive social impact, because that’s also important,” she said. “Local Relic works hard to have a positive environmental impact, because breweries are inherently wasteful of resources. We’re working to move the building to a zero-landfill position. … It’s harder than you realize, with food and beverage, to do that, but we’re working hard.”

Howard’s goal was to weave the Carter Payne into the community tapestry, she said, with all businesses reflecting the company’s mission while still maintaining their own individual brands.

“We’re just really intentional about doing things in a way that reflects where we are and who we are,” Howard said. “People sometimes look at [the Springs] like, ‘Oh, it’s just a bedroom community of Denver’ — like we don’t have our own real identity. That’s not true.”

Laying the groundwork for the Carter Payne was a distinctly Colorado Springs experience, Howard said. She knew the idea sounded slightly “harebrained” at first blush — even her own father worried she’d lost her mind — but everyone from her broker to the local brewing community threw their support behind the concept.

“I feel like in other communities, it might take a lot of money. … Here, what it takes is a want to and a little bit of risk, and people just get behind you,” Howard said. “For every no we got, we got two yeses.”

Plans include a wine bar called CRUsade, perhaps another food concept from Beavers, and hopefully many more decades of helping guests find “an individual identity within a common space,” Howard said.

“I feel like it’s a safe place to be yourself, but also to find people both like and unlike you,” she said. “I think the world needs more of that.”