TELLURIDE – Call it a scourge, blight or whatever you will, but fully 9 percent of Colorado Ave.’s ground floor commercial space is presently vacant and for merchants here that spells nothing good.
“That’s a heck of a lot for a small town,” said Telluride Gallery of Fine Art owner Will Thompson.
“I don’t think it really puts out the image that our town wants to project,” he continued.
So to help address empty storefronts and a generally dim downtown populated by shops that visitors perceive as closing earlier than in other resorts, more than 30 businesspeople have been banding together in recent weeks to strategize how to liven up a main street that has seen street level vacancies triple in just over two years, according to records kept by the town’s Planning and Building Department.
“The first issue is how can we really make the business district more vibrant and vital,” said Thompson, who has helped spearhead the renascent Telluride Merchants Association working hurriedly to reinvigorate the town’s recessionary retail sector in time for ski season.
Happily, they’ve come up with some ideas – one of the most visible of which will actually be two – two evergreens decked out in yuletide finery – located in the empty lot at the corner of Willow Street now used for parking.
“The east end of town was looking neglected; it literally is the ‘fade to black,’” said new Town Councilmember Chris Myers, who has been meeting with the local merchants and has taken up the holiday tree project for his own.
“I’m interested in making sure that town council doesn’t just delegate, but that it becomes engaged with local businesses to make sure they understand the very important energy and vitality they bring to this community,” he said.
In what Myers described as part barn raising and part “warm-up to Noel Night” the community is invited to partake in hot chocolate courtesy of Telluride Truffle (bring your own cup) and holiday festivities on Monday, Nov. 30, at 5:30 p.m., when the trees are lit.
The most observant among us may notice that some of the energy-efficient LED bulbs that brighten the trees cast a bluish tint similar to those that have adorned main street lampposts in years past.
In true Telluride style the former lamppost lights are being recycled for tree duty in order to make room for whiter, more inviting “next generation” LEDs to adorn the downtown.
“For $10, anyone can ‘light-a-lamppost,’ and the more people who participate, the more we truly have a community event that we each have made possible,” said Myers.
“We’re trying to make our business district vibrant and light,” said Thompson. “These lights will certainly help.”
The association has also been in contact with the owners of vacant main street storefronts to see if they might make the spaces available to non-profit organizations, art galleries and the like “to mitigate the blight of these empty spaces,” as Thompson phrased it, until commercial tenants can be found.
“You don’t come to Telluride to see a ghost town,” he explained.
“The more full main street is the better, the more interesting the shopping experience,” said Picaya’s Lisa Horlick.
“It’s good to fill in the vacant spaces, at least people can look in windows if the store isn’t open,” she continued.
The new Kamruz Galley located in a vacant office just west of Telluride Paper Chase at 333 W. Colorado Ave. is one such example.
The use of Christmas lights in storefronts is also being encouraged because, “After dark our main street can look uninviting,” said Thompson, noting that the merchants are also looking to implement a late night shopping night once a week – probably on Thursdays.
Although the recession has most certainly been tough on local merchants, the experience hasn’t been all bad, according to Wendy Basham of Telluride Trappings and Toggery.
“In some ways whole downtown – everyone is pulling together,” she said. “We’re focused on making a team effort for the first time in a long time.”
To “light a lamppost” please make checks payable to The New Community Coalition. Donations may also be dropped off with Lisa Horlick at Picaya.