GLENWOOD SPRINGS — What started as a quest by Noel Bismark-Pettit to locate and ship Doc Holliday souvenirs and other western history pieces back to his native Zimbabwe has turned into one of downtown Glenwood’s most unique shops.
On a recent morning, with the pressure starting to bear down on last-minute Christmas shoppers, it was all Noel and his wife Joanna Bismark-Pettit could do to keep the front door closed until their normal opening time.
That’s because Dancing Bear Trading Post at 727 Grand Ave. is one of those “something-for-everyone” kinds of shops that features everything from educational and retro toys and children’s clothes to jewelry, clothing accessories, souvenir T-shirts, collectibles, African imports, Native American artwork, handcrafted pottery and even a variety of local and regional health and beauty products.
And, of course, there’s still a wide selection of Doc Holliday, Glenwood Springs, Aspen and Colorado souvenir items.
“It was through determination, perseverance and patience on her part that we stuck it out and are still here today,” Noel says of Joanna, a Polish immigrant who ran the store in its original, smaller space by herself until he could join the business.
Running with doc
“It was right after the recession and everyone else was closing up, and here we were opening a new business,” she recalls.
Most of those early days were spent watching over the store while also keeping an eye on their baby son Kuba, who is now 3-1/2, Joanna said.
Noel’s mission at the time was to find as much information about Doc Holliday and other western history and source souvenir products, such as mugs, shot glasses, tumblers, poker chips, T-shirts and other items to be made and sold in the store.
Especially for a town that is renowned as the final resting place of the famous gunslinger, “I was surprised that no one else was doing that sort of stuff here,” Noel said.
“So it started off as a challenge to see how far I could take the Doc theme,” he said.
Toward the end of 2012, he was to the point where he could join his wife in the retail side of the business and expand the store to include a variety of other items.
With the help of their landlord, C. Jacobson, who owns the adjacent Sacred Grounds Coffeehouse, they were able to move into the next-door space and expand from just 250 square feet to their current 2,800 square feet.
Today, the Dancing Bear is a mini department store of sorts, with different rooms set aside for the various merchandise.
The name “Dancing Bear” was given to Noel by a roommate of his in Jackson Hole, Wyo., to where he had immigrated from Zimbabwe in 2006 to be a golf professional at one of the local clubs.
It was there that he met Joanna, who came to the United States from Poland in 2002 to teach.
“I used to teach English as a second language in Poland, and they wanted me to come teach here,” said Joanna, who first landed in Steamboat Springs before going to Jackson Hole.
In 2009, they moved to Avon in Eagle County.
Joanna said she had been to Glenwood Springs and really enjoyed it, but Noel’s first visit here was sort of by chance.
“I went for a drive one day and got to I-70, and the choice was either east or west,” he said. “I went west.
“Once I hit the canyon and then Glenwood Springs, I just knew this was where I wanted to be,” he said.
Something for everyone
Recently, the Bismark-Pettits decided to expand their line of children’s toys for the holidays, including a line of educational toys by Hape. They also carry a line of dinosaur excavation kits and other hands-on learning toys.
For the retro-toy seeker, Dancing Bear even carries plastic Army man figures, classic slingshots and other “toys we all grew up with.”
“It’s amazing to see the kids come in, they’re just drawn to that stuff because they’ve never seen it before,” Noel said.
Over in the jewelry section, there are hand-crafted works from several Native American tribes in the Four Corners states, as well as from places like Peru, Guatemala and Nepal.
“We’ve definitely managed to fill a niche for the downtown area,” Noel said.
The Doc Holliday collection is his pride and joy.
What started as a selection of four rows of different western-themed and landmark shot glasses, including several with the variations of Doc Holliday’s image, has expanded to 42 different glasses, he said.
“What I do is I’m a sourcer and a negotiator,” Noel said of his work to pitch different designs to manufacturers, who then turn product for the store.
“And it’s all made in the USA,” he said.
After Noel became more directly involved in the store and Kuba was old enough for day care, Joanna took the opportunity to “follow her passion” and went to the Glenwood Beauty Academy to become a cosmetologist.
Her newly gained knowledge about health and beauty items carried over to the store, which carries a variety of soaps, lotions, bath salts and other items, mostly made by local and regional artisans.
Recently, the Bismark-Pettits opened a second Dancing Bear General Store at 208 Sixth St., next to the Flower Mart. The focus there has been on local and regional cottage businesses, many of whom are vendors at the summertime Downtown Market.
Customers can find honey, hot sauces, jams and jellies, mustard spreads, even fish and other frozen meats.
The plan after the first of the year is to introduce an entire grocery section carrying goods from Joanna’s homeland, including different kinds of sausages, candy and other ethnic foods.
“There are a lot of Polish people living in Glenwood Springs, and the closest store to find the things we grew up with is in Denver,” she said. “We plan to cater not only to the Polish people living here, but I think everyone will like what we bring in to the store.”