The 416 Fire, and its aftermath, left a scar on the business community in the Durango area in 2018, but most companies were able to weather the storm. Retail outlets, especially on Main Avenue, suffered significantly when the train was shuttered during much of the summer tourism season. Other companies, however, thrived in 2018, expanding their operations to meet a growing customer base. Housing construction continued its fevered pace, as did the average cost of purchasing a home in Durango, and more than a half dozen hotels broke ground. Unfortunately, a handful of longtime local businesses closed their doors in 2018. Fortunately, just as many new businesses opened this year in Durango to offset some of the loss.
EconomyForecast: A happy and bright economic picture with only a few foreboding shadows was painted for the nation and the state at the 2018 SW Economic Outlook held in January. However, it gave a more somber view for the Four Corners. The hit San Juan County, New Mexico, has taken for several years with prices dropping in natural gas and the decrease in employment and economic activity was expected to drag on La Plata County’s economy. Reports mid-year and earlier this month say the economy in Colorado actually grew in 2018, but at a slower pace than it had been growing in past years.
416 Fire: By June 6, less than a week after the 416 Fire started north of Durango, the economic costs of the fire were adding up. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad furloughed 150 seasonal employees, Purgatory Resort canceled several weddings and group gatherings and the ski resort was closed. Blair Street in Silverton was largely vacant of foot traffic.
John Harper, general manager of the D&SNG, warned that if the train was closed for the month of June, which it turned out to be, it would deliver a $33 million hit to the local economy. By June 27, few if any retail businesses in Durango had managed to escape the absence of tourists stemming from the fire and the cancellation of train runs to Silverton.
“It is definitely affecting us,” said Tori Ossola, rooms division manager at the Strater Hotel in downtown Durango. “We are a historic property, and many people package a ride on the train with a stay at the Strater. When people saw the trains weren’t going to be running, that changed their plans.” Ossola estimated June’s sales were close to 40 percent down from June 2017.
Airport: Despite the 416 Fire, Durango-La Plata County Airport saw increased passenger traffic during the summer. The number of arrivals and departures came in at 34,903 for June, a 1.3 percent increase from the same month in 2017; 37,653 in July, a 1 percent increase; and in August, 37,435, a 4.6 percent increase. Year-to-date through Aug. 31, the airport’s passenger numbers increased 2.1 percent, according to a news release issued by the airport.
“We were encouraged to see continued growth at DRO despite disruptions to the regional economy as a result of the 416 Fire,” said Tony Vicari, director of aviation. “The airport continued operations through the duration of the fire. Airport staff were proud to safely and efficiently facilitate both emergency firefighting and commercial airline operations at DRO this summer.”
New businessesJungle Gym: Durangoans who hoped to someday compete in “American Ninja Warrior” were excited in early January after the opening of Jungle Gym, 151 E. 15th St., which offered obstacle course training, group fitness classes and personal training for all ages.
“We wanted to build a place for people to train and have fun while working out,” said co-owner Alli Kardas. “This is an alternative to CrossFit because there are enough of those gyms in town. That is not what we are into.”
Colorado Clay: Also in January, a new ceramics studio and art gallery opened on Main Avenue in the North Point Mall. Owner Nick Schlau envisioned the sunny space as a community gathering place. The business offers classes and the studio can be rented for events.
Discover Goodwill: Durango’s first retail and donation center operated by Discover Goodwill of Southern and Western Colorado also opened in January.
“We want to enhance the Durango community as much as they will enhance our mission,” said Bradd Hafer, directory of marketing and communications with Discover Goodwill. “We view this as an opportunity center.”
The retail and donation center at 1230 Escalante Drive, near Escalante Middle School and Big O Tires, boasts 15,620 square feet for operations on a parcel with a little over 4.1 acres, with plenty of parking.
The Old Barrel Tea Co.: A family of New Mexico tea lovers opened their first shop in Colorado in the Main Avenue space previously occupied by Stuart’s of Durango. Bailey Huffmon said at the time that about 50 percent of the company’s revenue came from the sale of loose-leaf teas, with the remainder coming from essential oils, spices and sundry gift items such as scented candles.
The Cavern Bar & Grill: A new restaurant and bar replaced Lady Falconburgh’s on Main Avenue in March, which sported a turn-of-the- century mining theme featuring a waterfall along the brick stairwell that numerous Durangoans had descended for a night of serous drinking.
Re-Tail Boutique: The La Plata County Humane Society opened a new thrift store dedicated to high-end boutique items in May in a shopping center south of downtown Durango at 450 South Camino del Rio, Suite 202, near the Big 5. Proceeds benefit the Humane Society’s animal shelter.
TBK: First National Bank of Durango was sold to Triumph Bancorp Inc. of Dallas for $134.4 million in the third quarter of the year. In addition, Triumph purchased Citizens Bank of Pagosa Springs for $13 million, with the deal also closing in the third quarter.
“We wouldn’t do a deal with someone who didn’t share our values, especially our focus on the importance of customers and community,” said Mark Daigle, president and CEO of First National. “TBK has made clear they are committed to community banking and the customers, and that has been seen with their other acquisitions.”
BP plans move: In May, the BP regional office for the San Juan Basin planned to move from its building near the Durango-La Plata Airport to space leased in the Bank of Colorado building on Main Avenue.
Up to 90 employees were expected to move to downtown Durango from the 100,000-square-foot building and BP campus at 380 County Road 309.
“With routing algorithms, we’re able to push data to our field operators, and they know which wells they need to complete that day. There’s no longer need to start their day at a central office. It’s changed our need for physical office space,” said Will Burton, vice president of West business operations for BP. “It’s not your granddad’s oilfield anymore.”
ROLL: In June, Claire Attkisson and her partner, Mike Burns, opened ROLL, a door-to-door e-bike business. “Mainly, it’s about the pure joy you get when you’re on a bicycle,” Attkisson said. “It’s a chance to get unplugged from your cellphone and get back to nature. For people coming from sea level to altitude, it’s a huge help, and it helps them see Durango like a local does.”
Jimmy’s Music and Supply: In July, Jim Gillaspy, a former co-owner of Katzin Music & Studios, which closed earlier in the year, announced the opening of a new music-supply store in Durango.
“Now that the word’s out, the response really has been heart-warming,” Gillaspy said. “I’m excited to play a role in music in Durango again.”
MJM Jewelers: In late summer, Chad and Melissa Ambrose moved their jewelry business from Farmington to downtown Durango at 1063 Main Ave., offering full jewelry service, including repair and custom designs.
Sweet Addition: Owner Francilia Pena Ehrig opened a pastry and coffee shop in the Main Mall, 835 Main Ave., in September. Ehrig’s specialty is Portuguese custard.
We Fill: In November, biologist Cristin Salaz announced the opening of We Fill, a shop to make Durango a little more Earth-friendly by decreasing the amount of plastic used one single-use polyurethane bottle at a time. “I want to help all the future generations of all species here on Earth, and this is the one little contribution I can make,” she said.
We Fill, housed in the old north Main Avenue post office at 3465 Main Ave., features personal hygiene products, home-cleaning products and laundry detergents that are sold in bulk. Customers can bring their own bottles – plastic, glass, metal, whatever – to refill at the shop, thereby eliminating the cycle of getting a single-use plastic container with every purchase of shampoo, lotion or laundry detergent soap.
Mountain Hyperbarics: A father’s quest to aid his autistic son, a midlife marriage and a woman’s recovery from traumatic brain injury helped lead to the opening of Mountain Hyperbarics in Durango. The business, at 100 Jenkins Ranch Road, Suite D, offers access to a hard-sided hyperbaric chamber. The chambers are used to treat an array of conditions stemming from the lack of oxygen, such as strokes, traumas, heart attacks, peripheral arterial diseases, diabetic wounds, neurological conditions, wound recovery and recovery from fractures.
ExpansionsVantiv acquires Worldpay: Vantiv Inc.’s $11 billion acquisition of British-based Worldpay Group in January set the company up to take integrated electronic payments born and developed in Durango globally. Vantiv took on the name Worldpay Inc. and now trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “WP.”
“This combination is an exciting opportunity to take integrated payments, which was born and developed in Durango by Mercury and taken national when Mercury was acquired by Vantiv, to take it globally,” said Matt Taylor, Worldpay’s executive vice president.
11th Street Station: In March, Durango planning commissioners unanimously approved a deck expansion to allow 11th Street Station, a food truck collective on Main Avenue, to expand its seating. The new deck was added in the summer, and it extends behind the building west to Narrow Gauge Avenue over storage containers and parking spaces.
The Bookcase & Barber: Also in March, Beau and Jenna Black, owners of The Bookcase & Barber, a Prohibition-era themed bar and barbershop, announced the addition of a new bar and 20 more seats at the popular speakeasy on East Second Avenue.
“It will allow us to expand the size of private parties we accept,” said Jenna Black.
700 acres rezoned: In April, a proposal to reclassify 700 acres between Durango and Bayfield to a designation that would allow a large-scale residential and commercial development was approved by the La Plata County Planning Commission. The property, owned by the Burkett family and about 4 miles east of Elmore’s Corner, was classified as agricultural/ residential. The proposal, which was approved, now has the land classified as 175 acres of mixed-use, 130 acres of suburban residential and 400 acres of large-lot residential.
Yellow Carrot: In July, The Yellow Carrot, a bakery, restaurant and catering business on north Main Avenue, opened its new location a few blocks north at 3206 north Main Ave. For 10 years, The Yellow Carrot was squeezed in between 81301 Coffee Roasters and Dunn Deal Resale in a 1,300-square-foot space. After seven months of construction, the business opened in late July in a 7,200-square-foot facility with seating for 60, owner Sari Seedorf said.
Animas Surgical Hospital: A plan to add a new building to allow Animas Surgical Hospital to split outpatient and inpatient operations into separate buildings was announced and approved in August. The three-story, 73,125-square-foot building will contain medical offices, a surgical center and a pharmacy. It will also include an attached two-story parking structure, which is expected to alleviate the parking shortage experienced at the Rivergate Medical Campus and Rivergate Lofts – with people often parking their cars illegally on Sawmill Road.
Durango Craft Spirits: In October, Durango Craft Spirits opened a 1,500-foot expansion, which helped it to double production of its craft bourbon from two barrels a month to four. “We just ran out of room,” said Michael McCardell, who owns the craft distillery at 1120 Main Ave., along with his wife, Amy. Though he’s sheepish to admit it – a tough year for retail and tourism after the 416 Fire and subsequent flooding – his sales grew at a healthy clip in 2018. Sales from his tasting room were up 25 percent from 2017 and his distribution sales were up 20 percent. In addition to bourbon, McCardell also distills a vodka and a moonshine whiskey.
Animas Trading Co.: Cathy Wakeman, owner of Animas Trading Co., 742 Main Ave., said she had been looking to relocate for months before finding a workable spot in the fall. “Rent had gotten so high with built-in rent increases. The new place is a bigger, better space with cheaper rent; that’s what prompted the move,” she said. The new store has 3,650 square feet compared with 2,500 square feet at the old location, which was in the 1000 block of Main.
Pine Needle Dry Goods: In November, Jeremy Dakan and Ashley Gonnella, owners of Pine Needle Mountaineering, opened a sister shop at 858 Main Ave. The 2,000-square-foot shop allowed the business to add up-and-coming lines and provide more space for existing brands, Dakan said.
GitPrime: Also in November, GitPrime, a Durango-based firm which makes software analytic tools that provide data-driven metrics for software design teams to measure their efficiencies, announced that it had gone from occupying 1,800 square feet in the Main Mall, 835 Main Ave., to 8,800 square feet to handle its growing workforce.
The firm, which was recognized as one of 50 companies to watch on the 2018 Colorado Companies to Watch list, started the year with about 18 employees. In November, it had 60.
Purgatory Resort: A new 103-room hotel with a ballroom to handle 300 people and meeting space was proposed this month by Purgatory Resort. If approved, the hotel, in a portion of what is now the Gelande overflow parking lot, will be a select-service, extended-stay hotel with kitchenettes in some rooms.
Also, three new ski trails and a new ski lift would come with the inn, tentatively named the Gelande Hotel. The 72,233-square-foot inn, owned by Gelande Hotel Properties, a division of Mountain Capital Partners, would include a restaurant and bar, a ski and mountain bike rental shop, fitness center, breakfast buffet and lobby.
ConstructionHomes: Home construction continued at a brisk pace throughout 2018, and according to a report earlier this month, the high cost of land, labor and infrastructure have pushed the median home price for in-town Durango homes close to $500,000.
In Three Springs, the median price is $395,750. In Twin Buttes, homes are selling in the $600,000 range. In Edgemont Meadows, about 6 miles northeast of Durango, the price of several homes sold recently was about $575,000, real estate agents specializing in each community said.
Residents likely need to earn more than $80,000 per year to afford a $484,500 home, and that is with $50,000 for a down payment and minimal debt, said Elizabeth Salkind, executive director of Housing Solutions for the Southwest. The monthly mortgage payments in this scenario would be about $2,300, she said. The median annual income in La Plata County is about $61,910, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In January, the city of Durango adopted a housing plan to encourage developers to build more housing in town to help meet demand. The plan outlined strategies to encourage more housing of all kinds, put in place more market-friendly changes, prioritize density, establish a permanent housing trust fund and set up a land banking program. It also aimed to establish 1,000 long-term affordable units by 2040 that would be set aside for low-income residents. “Nothing is going to get cheaper, but we need to stem the tide of the rapid acceleration of prices,” Councilor Dean Brookie said at the time.
Warm weather throughout the winter of 2017 and spring of 2018 kept construction crews busy building homes through what is normally a slow time of the year. “Even right now, it’s hard to find someone, and now is not normally a busy period,” said Bob Smith of Buena Vista Builders and vice president of the Home Builders Association of Southwest Colorado in January. “A lot of contractors usually go to Arizona for the winter, but this year, the weather has just cooperated,” he said.
The 416 Fire was expected to impact home sales, but overall, the market remained strong throughout the summer. Second-quarter real estate data reflecting sales from April to June didn’t show lower sales.
By October, the number of home sales began to lag slightly, but median prices continued to rise across most of Durango and La Plata County, according to third-quarter sales data from the Durango Area Association of Realtors. Total sales dropped to 136 in the third quarter of 2018 from 147 in the same quarter in 2017, according to DAAR’s data. “It’s not a surprise,” said Rick Lorenz, a broker with The Wells Group in Durango. “There’s not a big surplus inventory in town. There just isn’t anything cheap out there.”
Earlier this month, construction crews were moving dirt in the Grandview area in preparation for a large development that will change the face of the commercial corridor. Developers plan to put 61 single- family homes, 92 townhomes and two churches on the south side of U.S. Highway 160, across from Mercy Regional Medical Center, planning documents show. The new development, called Elevation Park at Hope Springs, is going up in one of the three remaining areas targeted for significant growth, according to the city of Durango’s comprehensive plan.
Escalante Drive: Two hotels and a medical building were proposed along Escalante Drive between Home Depot and Walmart in May. A MainStay Suites and a Sleep Inn will share a three-story building with 82 rooms. The hotels will share a lobby, breakfast space and pool, however, the rooms on either side of the building will be distinctly different, the builder said. Construction was underway on the project in December.
Tiny home village: Also in May, a former La Plata County commissioner proposed a plan to create a community of tiny homes in the city. Bob Lieb proposed a community of 24 tiny homes on 1.7 acres at 224 Baker Lane, sandwiched between Escalante Middle School and Walmart. It will include a community garden and a recreation area. The landscaping, which can be moved by forklifts, ensures that another characteristic of tiny homes, their mobility, will not be compromised by placing them in a subdivision that aims to meet city standards and provide full utilities. The tiny home village expects to open in May, weather permitting.
More new hotels: By the end of May, four proposed hotels were in the planning process along with the two proposed for Escalante Drive. The six new hotels were expected to add up to 450 rooms to the town. The boom was coming shortly after the completion of four new hotels during the last four years in Durango, including La Quinta Inn & Suites, Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, Holiday Inn & Suites and the Homewood Suites.
The four new hotels planned for Durango included two new hotels on East Second Avenue, a new hotel on Camino del Rio and one along South Camino del Rio near Allen Theaters.
Spanish Trails: Bill Hermesman, owner of Northpoint Home Furnishings, purchased 26 units at Spanish Trails Inn & Suites in July to remodel and convert them to rental apartment units with tenants signing annual leases. The units at 3141 Main Ave. are in the smaller ancillary building on the south side of the property adjacent to the north Zia Taqueria. “It captures a market no one is really servicing now,” Hermesman said. “It was a good buy, and I wanted to get in the starter market.” Hermesman had already remodeled six units, and he signed his first one-year lease for the complex earlier in the month. He planned to gradually remodel and convert the current weekly rentals to monthly rentals as weekly occupants moved out.
ClosingsSeveral companies in Durango called in quits in 2018, but many were replaced with new businesses. Some of the noteworthy closings included:
Blu: After a decade, Blu, a women’s clothing boutique on Main Avenue, closed in January. “It’s real sad. We love this place, we love this store, we love our customers. We have had an amazing 10 years,” said owner Nina Quiros Hardie. Hardie moved to Southern California with her family and planned to focus on Beach Blu, a similar shop that she opened in San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico, in 2017.
Freenotes Harmony Park: Also in January, Durango-based Freenotes Harmony Park ceased manufacturing its large outdoor instruments in town. Playcore, a Tennessee-based company, bought Freenotes Harmony Park in 2016 and moved manufacturing to Carrollton, Georgia, in 2018.
Del Sol: Eileen Maddox, owner of Del Sol, a clothing shop at 858 Main Ave., closed the store at the end of January. The shop featured clothing and other products that change colors in the sun. “This was a retirement project,” she said. “I always wanted to do a small, little store. It was great for my brain. I learned a lot of skills from doing this, and I met a lot of great people.”
Katzin Music & Studios: After 39 years serving musicians and music students in Durango and the Four Corners, Katzin closed its doors in March. Like many small retailers, the owners said the shop had been hurt by online sales – starting with Guitar Center and then facing the even more powerful presence of Amazon. Jim Gillaspy, a former co-owner of Katzin, opened of a new music-supply store in July.
Schlotzsky’s-Cinnabon: With minimal prior notice, Schlotzsky’s closed in March after more than three years at its downtown location.
Rendezvous Doughnuts: Despite participating in the Hawk Tank business plan competition at Fort Lewis College, the high-end doughnut shop at 139 E. Fifth St. closed in May after just seven months in operation.
Southwest Sound: The music store, which opened in Durango in 1977, closed its doors for good in July. “I don’t want to leave the town without a place to go buy music because it’s a very spiritual thing,” said the store’s owner, Robert Stapleton, in May as he looked for a buyer. “But we’ve been trying to sell it for a while, and we haven’t had a lot of bites or interest.”
Stapleton bought Southwest Sound, located in the 900 block of Main Avenue, in 2002, after spending more than three decades working for Tower Records. He said the time had come to move on, driven by family reasons, as well as the reality that the music industry has been irrevocably changed by the internet and digital downloads.
Durango Brewing: Durango Brewing Co. abruptly closed its taproom in August, fired all of its local employees and moved operations to La Junta. Georgia Danielson, a sales manager for the company, said the decision to move all of the company’s operations to La Junta, about an hour drive east of Pueblo, was planned for some time.
Steaming Bean: In October, with sales lagging after a tough summer of fires and floods and the opening of a competing business next door, the Irish Embassy Pub pulled the plug on the Steaming Bean coffee shop that operated in its basement. Sales at the shop, 900 Main Ave., were hurt in October 2017 when Animas Chocolate Co. opened next door offering similar hot coffees, teas and chai, and the business took a further blow with slow sales during the 416 Fire, said Brad Taylor, general manager of the Irish Embassy Pub. “It was getting to the point where it just wasn’t working out,” he said.
Landis Boot & Shoe Repair: Landis, which had operated continuously in Durango since 1928, closed its doors in October. “We had a few offers to buy it, but they never came through, and I wanted to retire,” said owner Amy Thomas, 84. Thomas said Landis was the last shoe and boot repair left in Durango, and she is aware of only one other, in Grand Junction, on the Western Slope. “There used to be three or four in Durango alone,” she said. “People just aren’t getting shoes and boots repaired anymore. There’s really no reason to repair a shoe from Walmart. Shoe-repair shops are closing all over the country.”
Pizza Hut: The Pizza Hut on north Main Avenue moved to downtown Durango earlier this month to expand its delivery area. The move eliminated its dining area. “The move helps us better serve Durango,” said franchise owner Don George. “The trend in pizza is to carry out and delivery. We’re gaining an increased delivery area to the south and keeping our existing delivery area.”