Living in a tourist community with a seasonal economy takes a special kind of business person. One must adapt or fail.
Downtown Estes Park took shape in 1905, when Loveland grocer Cornelius Bond formed the Estes Park Town Company and sold lots for $50 along newly formed Elkhorn Avenue. Fred Clatworthy bought two of those lots for his photography studio, and for the next 50 years chronicled the early history of Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and the YMCA of the Rockies.
If a local family couldn’t afford food during Estes Park’s lean winter months, Brodie’s Supermarket extended a line of credit until tourists returned in the summer and families could pay their bills. Owner Ron Brodie was in the grocery business from 1936 to the late 1980s. Through the years locals fed ducks in the parking lot and Brodie handed out pumpkins to school kids at Halloween.
Today at the Brodie’s Supermarket location, Rob and Julie Pieper continue this civic tradition with their restaurants Poppy’s and Mama Roses. Rob and Julie are never too busy to host fundraising dinners for Partners Mentoring Youth, Estes Park Learning Place, and Restorative Justice, to name a few. To share resources among local restaurants, Rob and Julie formed the Estes Valley Restaurant Partners, which then began Estes Park Restaurant Week.
Every summer the locals and tourists ate at the Old Plantation Restaurant because of the Burgess Brothers, with Bill out front and Bob in the kitchen. Every morning Bob talked to Chuck Benson on KSIR Radio about the latest entrees: rainbow trout, the sizzling steak, Yankee pot roast, and the pies, oh the pies.
Lowell Slack established the Taffy Shop in downtown Estes Park in 1934 to satisfy the visitor’s sweet tooth. The shop’s saltwater taffy was so popular that Lowell kept the recipe under lock and key. Today, Mark and Kelly Igel keep the 81-year tradition alive, cooking the taffy on site, and then pulling, cutting and wrapping the candy with a Model K Kiss Wrapper. He estimates that the shop makes up to 35,000 pieces of taffy every summer day to serve customers lined out the door.
In 1908, J. Edward Macdonald opened a general store on Elkhorn Avenue that sold hardware, groceries, paint and sundries, with a small corner devoted to books. Today the books remain as Paula Steige continues the family tradition with the independent Macdonald’s Book Shop. Since 1971 Paula has guided the book shop with the emphasis on friendly, hometown service.
In the late 1940s, “Pep” Petrocine’s store Western Brands sold cowboy boots, jeans and hats to children attending Cheley Camp. To survive the tight winter months, Pep printed his first catalog in 1949 and started a successful international mail order business. Anticipating the outdoor clothing craze, Pep opened Outdoor World in 1967 and established Estes Park’s first computer store. Today, his son Ernie continues the family tradition at Rocky Mountain Connection and Outdoor World.
Anyone who visited Estes Park during the summers from 1947-72 remembers Casey’s Silver Streak train. The train whistle blew and Phil “Casey” Martin welcomed visitors with their children to ride his 17-inch high train through Lollipop Land, past Humpty Dumpty and Red Riding Hood. Casey sold the train to Harvey and Marcella Coleman at Ride-A-Kart, where it continues to entertain kids to this day. Now in its 57th year, Gary and Don Coleman offer go-karts, miniature golf, batting cages and bumper boats.
Today, business people are more modern but no less hardy. Olga Ortega Rojas moved to Estes Park from Mexico with her extended family in 1992. Seven years ago she realized her dream and opened Mountain Home Café, a local favorite. Amy Hamrick worked in coffee shops in college, and continued making coffee when she moved to Estes Park. Today Amy owns Kind Coffee and is a business leader downtown.
Written by Steve Mitchell