Credit: Melanzana blog
Where can you get one?
Only in their store on Main Street in Leadville. Melanzana has developed somewhat of a cult following in the outdoor gear world. In part because they are a high-quality, colorful, versatile article of clothing and in part because they are all handmade in the store by locals. The shop, which was expanded a few years ago, is filled with rows of sewing machines usually with a few dogs roaming in between, surrounded by huge rolls of fabric. Up front there are a few racks of picked-through merchandise, which sells nearly as quickly as they can produce them. Not enough supply to meet demand? At Melanzana that’s okay—it’s part of the allure.
Terry Schroeder sews fleece jackets on one of the 10 sewing machines at Melanzana’s headquarters. Credit: The Denver Post
The owner, Fritz Howard and 20-year Leadville resident, has made some intentional choices—sometimes sacrificing profits—to be (and remain) a local Main Street business. As a result, Melanzana has become part of the local identity of Leadville. By producing a mountain product in the most rugged of mountain towns, employing local outdoor enthusiasts who mountain bike on their lunch breaks, and using a fleece fabric produced in America, they generate a truly authentic mountain vibe. This vibe has extended to other local businesses as well, encouraging improvements along the Main Street and creating momentum for new restaurants, businesses and placemaking projects.
“All aboard the melanzana CRAZY TRAIN! As of July 2nd, we have manufactured 18,606 garments this year, and sold every last one in our Leadville store.” —Melanzana Facebook post, July 2018. Credit: Melanzana
Why does this matter?
A healthy Main Street is the sign of a healthy community. It is both a destination for visitors and it is a source of pride for local residents. As such, small towns throughout Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West are looking for ways to strengthen their historic Main Streets and support local businesses. Melanzana exemplifies how a single local business can contribute to the identity and culture of the entire community. This is what matters in small towns and we want more of it.
The lesson here is that there is a strong connection between local business and place. Great businesses create great places: great places attract great businesses. Such as, when a simple fleece sweatshirt, handsewn in an extreme little mountain town is recognized by a complete stranger 1,000 miles away as ‘Leadville’—that’s a powerful connection to place.
This past year I made a special trip to Leadville to buy a ‘mele’ for everyone in my Wisconsin family—‘A Very Mele Christmas’—and stopped for a little lunch on Main Street while I was there. Credit: Alison Cotey Bourquin
Main photo credit: Colorado Trail House