West Wind reaches 25th year, but it wasn’t always a breeze | PostIndependent.com

West Wind reaches 25th year, but it wasn’t always a breeze

In 1977, Terry Kates opened his Glenwood Springs store in time to cash in on the “Urban Cowboy” film craze that put millions of guys and gals into cowboy hats.

“That was the biggest hat year we ever had,” Kates said. “I didn’t even take them out of the box. We’d set them on the floor, and price them right there. Hats were so hot, you couldn’t get them, or keep them. We had to import Biltmores from Canada.”

Kates celebrates his 25th year as a Glenwood Springs store owner this month, and has adapted to many changes, including body piercing.

“Body jewelry for the kids is very strong,” Kates said from his West Winds store in the Glenwood Springs Mall. “Body jewelry is for belly buttons, ears, noses and other body parts. I like to say `If you’ve got the body, we’ve got the jewelry.'”

Kates, 54, got started in the retail business in 1973 as a leather goods street vendor in Maryland and Washington, D.C. When D.C. officials cracked down on street vendors in 1976, Kates looked west to the beach town of Santa Cruz, Calif., but only made it halfway.

“I figured if I didn’t like it here, I’d move there. I’d been through here before on ski trips,” Kates said.

Kates also had an old college buddy, Dr. Rob Anderson, who moved to Glenwood Springs earlier that year. “I moved in with him for a while up Mitchell Creek,” he said.

Kates, a custom leathersmith by trade, opened his first store in 1977 at what is now Tamarack Mall at 10th and Grand. A year later, he bought the building at 816 Grand Ave., and opened his doors as Mountain Rags and Master Leather Works. Besides cowboy hats, Kates specialized in leather products, including custom leather items such as gun sheaths and backpacks. His leather-working shop was in back.

“That building is the second-oldest wood frame building in downtown Glenwood Springs,” he said. “Diamond Jim Murty was in that building as a barber before he moved to King Mall. He was in his 80s when I bought it.”

After the oil shale bust of the early 1980s, dozens of Glenwood Springs businesses went out of business. Kates hung on, but by 1988 he figured he had two options: liquidate, or open a store where he could stay open longer. Kates moved the store to the Glenwood Springs Mall.

These days, Kates isn’t tied to his store for long stretches, and he credits his employees for that. “Right now I’m blessed with good employees. There are times you have to get away from the store and let the employees run it. When I come back I’m fresh and ready to go,” he said.

After opening in the mall, Kates carefully expanded his product line and turned his store into more of a gift shop than strictly leather and hats. He changed the store name to West Wind five years ago.

Today, Kates still carries leather products, and is still known for walls full of Stetson, Resistol and Larry Mayhan hats.

He looked up at one row dominated by a single red hat. “That’s a nice, bright fedora,” he said. “They sell okay. I also sell a lot of derbies. Derbies are strong for musicians.”

Cruising his store, Kates stopped at a display case full of Zippo lighters, collector knives, ostrich wallets, and sterling jewelry. “I’ve got the most diversified product line in 25 years,” he said.

That product line includes a display case filled with silver and gold belt buckles, some almost as large as a dessert plate. “The Hispanic market is big on belt buckles,” he said. “And hats.”

Kates is big on the Hispanic market. “They are a strong purchasing factor. They are a family-oriented culture and they like to go shopping on weekends.”

Kates also has some advice for other retailers. “If you’re not adjusting to the Hispanic market, you’re an endangered species.”

Kates himself is not an endangered species, and he plans to run his store for the next 10 years. Short term, he is planning at 25th anniversary sale later this month, and will discount his items a dramatic 25 percent.

“I want to thank the locals for supporting us all these years. We’re happy to be here, and we are here for them.”

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