MINTURN, Colorado - Sage Pierson grew up in East Vail, and always wanted to live in Minturn. After making that dream happen Pierson owns a downtown business, too.In December, Pierson opened the Sticky Fingers bakery in the the old railroad town's small downtown district. "I like it here," Pierson said. "You're kind of off the beaten path.Sticky Fingers' opening brought to eight the number of new businesses that have opened in downtown Minturn in a little more than a year. And the revitalization of the town's business district isn't through yet. Eric Cregon, who made Mango's in Red Cliff a high-elevation hot spot, is ready to open the former Chilly Willy's restaurant, which has been vacant for the last several months.The new businesses fill several categories, from music to food to outdoor recreation and even a new tattoo studio.Karen Funnelle-Harkins was among the first in the latest wave of new businesses in Minturn. Her clothing store, Jayded, just celebrated its first anniversary, despite a struggling local and national economy."We're doing all right," Funnelle-Harkins said. "I can look into the next year now."Funnelle-Harkins said she's long been in love with the building Jayded now occupies, hard against the Harold Bellm Bridge at the entrance to town. Long-timers will remember that Cowboys & Indians occupied the building for many years."I've loved that building forever," Funnelle-Harkins said. And, like the other new business owners, she loves Minturn, and has sung its praises to anyone who will listen.
One of those people is Shawn McKeown, owner of Minturn Music. McKeown and his wife were in Jayded one day last year, and began talking to Funnelle-Harkins. McKeown mentioned that he was looking around for a new space for his Avon store, formerly Mojo Music.Funnelle-Harkins mentioned that some retail space was available across the street, McKeown made some calls, and Minturn Music opened last fall. "She helped convince me to come downtown," McKeown said. And, so far, things seem to be working out."I do like being here," McKeown said. "It's nice being on a main street."While Minturn has a traditional main street, McKeown said he doesn't get as much walk-in traffic as he did when the store was in Avon."But people who need us are finding us."Like many long-time residents, people who have recently arrived in Minturn love the place. It's not Vail, and doesn't pretend to be anything but what it is - an old railroad town that finds itself surrounded by the Vail Valley.The town's age has its problems - it's been less than 20 years since the last of the old wooden water lines were replaced, and it's hard to get an accurate land survey because the old survey points move as Meadow Mountain continues to shift.But people in town are working to keep the place vibrant."We're trying to upgrade as we can," Minturn Town Manager Jim White said. "We're trying to feed on the energy of the new businesses as well as the existing businesses."The town has received some advice about economic development from Downtown Colorado Inc. and has some firm plans to spruce up downtown.A sidewalk replacement project will start this year, and the town is looking at improving downtown's lights. There's also a plan for a bike-sharing program for the summer.Ultimately, though, the private sector is fueling this resurgence the old-fashioned way - Minturn's a pretty good value for a store owner.
Tim Simon has owned the Minturn Music and Sticky Fingers retail spaces for years. With that length of ownership comes some flexibility when it comes to working with tenants. And, given the times, he knows he has to compete with other landlords in other communities, too."Everybody I've talked to has been shopping," he said of potential clients. That's why Simon has helped out his new tenants as much as he could, with new paint and other fix-ups needed to get his new tenants' spaces as presentable as possible."We spent a lot of time working things out," Simon said.Funnelle-Harkins' landlord is the company that owns the Battle Mountain property between Minturn and Red Cliff, site of a proposed ski area and upscale housing development. She said her landlords were willing to work with her, too. The Jayded building got a new coat of paint, some improvements to the indoor plumbing and other improvements. And the fixed up building came at what Funnelle-Harkins calls a "favorable" rent."I just kept bugging them and we worked it out," Funnelle-Harkins said.While Minturn has its charms, it is out of the way for most valley residents. That's why many of Funnelle-Harkins' friends told her she needed to open her store somewhere else."People said 'go to Edwards,'" she said. "But I'm not going to spend $4,000 a month for rent."Besides, we're becoming more of a destination," Funnelle-Harkins added. "You can come her for a pair of jeans, grab a coffee and even get a tattoo."Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.