What makes Telluride truly Telluride are the absolutely unique institutions and artifacts that have sprouted here over the years like so many bizarre hallucinogenic mushrooms: things like the Free Box, KOTO, the Town Park Beaver Pond, the Nothing Festival, the Anasazi Blanket, and, of course, the Valley Floor. You won’t find anything like them anywhere else on the planet, no matter how hard you look, and without them, Telluride wouldn’t really be Telluride, a town so strangely wonderful it’s like a work of magical realism made flesh, a freeze-dried sanctified One Hundred Years of Solitude, or Tolkien’s Shire, the bucolic turf of the Hobbits.
The Mountaineer has always been much more than just a store, just as Terry Hersher, its genius locus, tutelary deity and resident mischief-maker and scourge of the Let’s Make Everything Nice and Proper Around Here/I Just Moved To Telluride And Now I Want To Make It Just Like The Dumbass Hell I Moved Here From clique, is much, much more than just a businessman.
I remember when the Mountain Village inaugurated an ill-advised eco-challenge competition, in which egomaniacal “wilderness athletes” stampeded across the wilderness destroying the foliage and along with it the sanctity of solitude and primeval quiet of the Telluride backcountry. At one point in the middle of the race a bunch of the “eco-warriors” showed up at the Mountaineer’s front door in need of urgent re-supply. I can’t remember the circumstances exactly, I think it was raining unexpectedly and the competitors needed waterproof gear or maybe they got caught out after dark without headlamps. Whatever the case, Terry’s response was classic. He had never liked the idea of the event, and had been loud in his opposition to it, so when he looked out and saw the eco-jocks ululating for assistance, he locked the door and told them to beat it.
Welcome to Telluride, you bums, and don’t come back. Classic Terry.
Another time, Terry, who is a fanatical buyer, seller and trader, bought a piece of archery equipment over ebay from a seller in Texas, and found it less than satisfactory. When he asked the seller for a refund, the guy smirked that he already had Terry’s payment and was going to keep it, and Terry could basically go to hell. Very, very bad idea; you mess with The Hershman at your peril. Terry went to a local Telluride cop and got a warrant put out on the sleaze ball. If the man was ever pulled over anywhere in the country for speeding, or had a parking cop check his license, any kind of minute offense, the warrant would show up on the computer and Mr. Smartass Texan would be extradited to San Miguel County to stand trial for defrauding Terry.
When Terry called the Texan and informed him of the warrant, the man was horrified. He begged Terry to reconsider, promising that he would refund the money immediately, apologize, anything to escape the Damoclean sword hanging over his head. Terry refused to relent; the culprit continued to plead, but Terry was as stern and uncompromising as an Old Testament king: “Yea verily, thou shalt not mess with The Hershmensch, for his wrath is great and terrible.”
Even setting aside Terry’s constantly entertaining mischief-making, the store itself was always fascinating. You never knew what arcane product was going to show up there, from the mini-stove system that boils water in record time (I have one), to backpack-able coffee makers to yoga pants to the latest technological advance in mountaineering skis, weather-predicting watches and pocket knives to Gorilla Snot and orienteering compasses.
But all this is soon going to be “was”; Terry is moving on, and the main street Mecca for Mountain People will become another real estate office, or maybe an “art” gallery. Whatever it becomes, it won’t have the delight-making eccentricity and personality of the old Mountaineer.
Sad, indeed. A triumph for those misguided souls who want Telluride to be just like everywhere else or more so, but a big bummer for those of us who love the place for its idiosyncratic wackiness.