Staying sharp for 15 years

       Fifteen years ago, when Dorothy Bretag was trying to think of another business to run with her husband Mel, their daughter Nichole asked her, “What's something you really love?”

Crossing swords (in a friendly way) are the Prince of Blades staff this week inside the store at 1641 W. Colorado Ave. At right are the “mom-and-pop” owners, Dorothy and Mel Bretag (she with a saber, he with a small Irish broadsword). At left is assistant Steve Shurtleff with a “Lord of the Rings” sword.
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       Dorothy answered, “Swords.”
       Thus began the Prince of Blades business at 1641 W. Colorado Ave. In the store's limited space (about 250 square feet), the Bretags carry about 75 different types of swords, ranging from tiny pocket knives up to 20-pound broadswords.
       If there's been a movie that featured swordplay, the store probably has its replica. Mel, Dorothy and assistant Steve Shurtleff listed such flicks as “300,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Brave-heart,” “The Highlander,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” and “Kill Bill” while pulling out film-appropriate blades from shelves and stands. Other popular offerings in the store include replicas of Hitler Youth knives or swords that are representative of the Knights Templar, the Vikings or Robin Hood.
       The swords are mainly decorative, al-though a few have received the extra metal “folding” to qualify them as “battle ready,” Mel said.
       The Internet wasn't a sales factor when the store opened in '94. But the online competition really hasn't hurt business all that much. “What keeps people coming here is that, even if they've seen a sword on the Internet, they don't have any idea of its size, weight or quality,” said Dorothy, who does all the ordering. “They can hold it and see how they like it. This is a hands-on kind of place.”
       The business has an everyday, practical service as well. Mel sharpens numerous types of blades, often while people wait. These include the expected items, such as kitchen or hunting knives, as well as scissors, gardening tools, lawnmower blades, pizza cutters, chainsaws and ice augers.

Mel Bretag sharpens a knife for a customer in the rear area of the Prince of Blades store. Sharpening is a key part of the business, which he and his wife Dorothy started 15 years ago at 1641 W. Colorado Ave. Before that, they had operated a pawn shop at the location for several years.
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       There's no telling who might walk through the doors of the little green building. “We get lawyers, doctors and every walk of life,” Dorothy said, “also a lot of chefs and meat cutters.” Parents bring their kids, and then “the kids come back when they're grown,” she laughed.
       A favorite customer memory was the 83-year-old lady who came in and said, “I don't know what I'm doing here, but all my life I've wanted a sword.” She tried out several before finding one she liked. “That was really something,” Dorothy said.
       In 15 years, she has not lost her affection for sharp blades - even though the two owners “go through a lot of bandaids,” as Mel dryly observed. - “I love to show the swords,” Dorothy said, with a gleam in her eye. “I love to say, 'This is a pirate sword,' or 'This is a Roman sword.'”
       Shurtleff, their one employee, quit his job as a hardware technician in the information technology world to come work at Prince of Blades. A sword collector, he's learning blade sharpening from Mel.
       For the Bretags, Prince of Blades provides a relatively laid-back business they can run together while enjoying a kind of “semi-retirement.” They've heard suggestions about expanding or moving to a more amenable location. But they like the current set-up, where they live in the back, which keeps overhead down, and coming to work is just a matter of walking through a door. “We're Westsiders,” Dorothy said. “We love it here.”
       Anyway, they know about high-stress work from prior experience, and are in no hurry to go back to it. Previous businesses of theirs include a large pawn shop in Fountain. Mel's also got stories, going back even farther back, about the dangers he faced as a Chicago police officer in the 1960s, and later a deputy sheriff in El Paso County.
       It was at the Fountain store, which Mel started in 1970, that he and Dorothy met; she came to work there, and they fell for each other. But a major heart attack in 1975 slowed him down, and they sold the place two years later. The couple took it easy for some years after that, travelling and living in different places, before migrating back to Colorado Springs about 20 years ago (where they have family) and moving into the house/shop at 1641 W. Colorado Ave.
       Earlier in the '80s, the store had been a pinball arcade. At first, when the Bretags got there, they tried the pawn shop business again, but didn't like it. They were phasing it out when Dorothy's conversation with her daughter pointed them in the direction of swords.

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