Series on converted-house businesses
5 years for Swish on the Avenue... and no regrets
It's been five years since Shelley Laur opened Swish, a women's new/old clothing store, in a converted 19th-century house at 1816 W. Colorado Ave.
She's not part of a shopping center or a designated commercial district, so she doesn't benefit from group marketing efforts, special events nor very much walk-in traffic.
Still, she hasn't regretted her location choice, after having run a day-spa business in the Manitou Springs commercial area for many years. Her “gut feeling” is that her part of the avenue “is going to be the next hot spot” for businesses on the Westside, she said in a recent interview.
That's not so outlandish an idea, knowing that Colorado Avenue has a long history of homes and businesses mixed together. And, Laur can point to the recent arrival of a children's clothing business across the street and the imminent opening of a clothing business in the house next door as positive signs.
Whatever happens, the long-time Westsider and Coronado High School graduate will continue to enjoy her chosen site. A big reason is it's given her independence. After being a commercial renter - like her father, Charles Esch, before her (a candy shop in Old Colorado City in the early '60s) - Laur wanted a place of her own. “If you own, your payments go into the property, not to someone else,” she said. “And you don't have to worry about the rent going up or the landlord waiting to fix things.”
Laur wasn't financially solvent enough to buy a building in downtown Manitou or Old Colorado City for half a million dollars or more. So she started thinking about the avenue.
“I had been looking for a year when this spot came up,” she recalled of 1816. She liked its looks, its space and $118,000 mortgage. For the price, she got nearly 1,000 square feet of indoor space, as well as 7,300 square feet of total property, including rear parking and a front yard where she could put a sign and maybe a garden.
Best of all, she and her husband James didn't have to do a whole lot to convert the building into a business. “It was already charming,” she said. Other than scraping some paint off a couple of stained glass windows and polishing some of the hardware, “I just had to add the clothes racks. It was better than any box you can rent.”
Looking back on Swish's first five years, Laur can point to a “steady increase” in business. A nice thing has been the support from the residential neighborhood around her. She thinks that although some people might criticize houses being used for businesses on the avenue, most residents are happy to see 1816 with an owner-occupied business rather than a renter who might not be as attentive.
A bonus has been the way the dwelling itself seems to attracts some customers. “I think people like coming into old houses,” Laur said. “I see them checking it out.”
Westside Pioneer article
(Articles on converted-house businesses on Colorado Avenue are part of an occasional series in the Westside Pioneer.)