A Portrait of Downtown Small Businesses in the Rocky Mountain West

When you stroll through downtown Glenwood Springs, Coloradoor many other towns in the Rocky Mountain Westyou’ll likely notice its unique character and charm. From its historic mom-and-pop drug store to the local bead and gem shop, the heart of Glenwood is made up of an array of small businesses that contribute to the overall identity of the community. 

To celebrate #SmallBusinessWeek, I took the opportunity to talk with a few downtown business owners that live and work in the area. One thing I discovered were the strong connections between shop owners and employees. Many of them are good friends that support one another—and the same goes for their customers. But, I also learned that many of these small businesses often feel unappreciated and under-supported by their own community and its local government administration.

Here’s what a few of them had to say—

Downtown Drug

Founded in 1905, Downtown Drug is a historic mom-and-pop pharmacy located in the heart of Glenwood Springs. They specialize in gifts, souvenirs, jewelry, and cigars. The owner, Margie, has been a part of the community for the past 21 years. Margie claims that she loves downtowns where you can shop, but in Glenwood Springs the availability of downtown retail seems to be shrinking instead of expanding.

“We have a lot of community support, we have fabulous customers, and many community members who support downtown businesses, and we need to work on maintaining [the downtown].”


The Silver Bead

Laura, a Glenwood native, has been the owner of The Silver Bead for 17 years. She specializes in different gemstones from all over the world—all hand-drilled and hand-polished. Laura claims that about 80% of her customers are locals. When Laura was growing up in the 90’s, mom-and-pop retail in downtown Glenwood extended far past 10th & Grand. Today, as you walk or drive down Grand Avenue south from I-70, you can notice the change—fewer and fewer mom-and-pop retail, more banks and realtor office buildings.

“For me, this is my dream come true, this is all that I ever wanted—to be creative everyday, and to have my own business and I worked really hard to have that opportunity.”



Jewels & Gems

Cheryl Guay, the owner of Jewels & Gems, has been in business for 35 years and is a pillar in the community. She specializes in jewelry repair and her own custom designed jewelry. Last fall, Cheryl, along with the six other business owners in her building, were told that their entire block had been sold to a large bank and will be torn down by the end of this year. Even though Cheryl has had her business in downtown Glenwood for the past 35 years, she felt she had no say in the future of her business.

“I’ve been in Glenwood for a long time—it’s my home—and I’d like to be able to keep my business, so I’m going to find another place, hopefully. … I’m looking in Carbondale [the next town over]. I’d prefer to stay in Glenwood but if there’s nothing in Glenwood I’m going to move to Carbondale maybe, even after 35 years of being here… .”

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With that in mind, what can small communities like Glenwood Springs do in order to have a say in the future of their downtowns? And how can policy-makers protect these small businesses from displacement and preserve the towns’ unique identity going forward?

As Community Builders’ Program Director, Cary Sheih, pointed out in his recent post, The Strength of Small Business Associations, SBA’s are a great way for small businesses to partner, network, share resources, and advocate for one another—especially for communities like Glenwood Springs, that already have strong local support for their small businesses.

A strong presence of small businesses in your downtown strengthens a community’s character. And this character is what creates the sense of “place” that attracts all types of people—from young and old to locals and tourists.

In our work in communities throughout the Rocky Mountain West, I’m often inspired by small business owners who step up and advocate for a sustainable and livable future for their community. I’ve found that by talking with these shop owners, I’ve learned more about my community than any other source in town. So, I encourage you to get out there and get to know your small business owners. They have a lot to share!

How are small businesses making an impact in your community? Or give us a shout at @communitybldrs!

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