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The Casa Cristal Pottery at the southeast corner of Colorado Avenue and 29th Street is seen from the north side of Colorado. The store is slated to close at the end of this month, and the buildings will be remodeled for the Optical Engines company.
Westside Pioneer photo

Site of long-time pottery store near OCC to become home for local laser company

Sef Castillo, who has managed Casa Cristal at 2829 W. Colorado Ave. since it opened in 1987, is surrounded by many of the store's wares as he stands on the porch by the main access off 29th Street.
Westside Pioneer photo
From selling pottery to manufacturing lasers.
       For the last 29 years, the property at 2829 W. Colorado Ave. has been a place to shop for creations by artisans in Mexico and the American Southwest.
       But that's about to change. Casa Cristal Pottery is closing at the end of April, and its remaining products - including pottery, iron and tinware, jewelry, sunfaces, lighting, blankets and furniture - will be shipped to the other two Casa Cristal stores in New Mexico.
       After remodeling, Optical Engines, an advanced fiber laser technology firm, plans to relocate to the 17,500-square-foot site in August.
       In the midst of the property-usage switch, one aspect - actually a person - will remain the same. Seferino “Sef” Castillo, who has been Casa Cristal's manager ever since it opened, will go to work for Optical Engines.
       “That's what I tell my customers,” Castillo smiled in a recent interview. “I'm not moving. The store is moving.” (More on that farther down.)
       Founded by engineer/inventor Don Sipes in Illinois in 2005, Optical Engines has operated in downtown Colorado Springs since 2009. It specializes in fiber lasers, along with high-power amplifiers. Customers come from the areas of medicine, industry, defense and science, Sipes explained.
       He and his wife Linda live on the Westside, near the Garden of the Gods. The move resulted from a search for a different location. “We're really excited about moving to Old Colorado City,” he said. “We believe interesting places produce interesting thoughts.”
       Manufacturing occurs at Optical Engines, but only in a clean-room environment, according to Sipes. “There will be no noise, no smell and no industrial chemicals,” he said, and the exterior will be “low profile, with no huge signs.” Even now, he pointed out, “when people come to our lab downtown, they say, 'We didn't know people did things like this around here.'”
       The business has only seven employees. Castillo, 77, will be added to that group, part-time. Although he's never worked in a technical environment, he said he's studied math and “I always wanted to be an engineer.”
       For his part, Sipes tends to hire older people in general and said he welcomes Castillo's “wisdom and experience. We have some things for him to do.”
       There is no question that Castillo knows what work is. Growing up in Folsom, a small town in northeastern New Mexico, he was on his own at age 12, employed
Products manufactured by Optical Engines include fiber laser components, such as this one, as shown on the company website at opticalenginesinc.com.
Courtesy of Optical Engines
as a ranch hand. Four years later, he moved to California, where he learned to be a floor-layer. That career lasted more than 30 years.
       Along the way, he became friends with Salvadore Aguirre, who opened the first Casa Cristal import store in Taos in 1984. At Aguirre's urging, Castillo agreed to run a second Casa Cristal store. “It took him four years to convince me,” Castillo grinned.
       The city of Pueblo was initially targeted, but he and Aguirre could not find a suitable spot. Looking next in Colorado Springs, they decided to buy the West Colorado Avenue site because “it was on a very busy street,” Castillo said.
       He also liked the old-style look and feel of the Old Colorado City area. “It reminded me of my home town,” he recalled (although noting with some regret that Folsom has gone from a population of 5,000 in his youth to about 500 today).
       They set up the business in 1987 with the existing building and outside space (some of it available for a parking lot) at 29th and Colorado as well as the lot just to the east. At that time, a house was still on that lot. Aguirre and Castillo looked for someone to buy it and move it, but there were no takers, so they tore it down and used the space to add on to the existing building.
       Optical Engines plans to retain both buildings, changing the exterior, upgrading the electrical systems and adding air conditioning, according to Sipes.
       Asked how business has been over the years for Casa Cristal, Castillo said it's been all right, but the avenue traffic turned out to be less than expected. The street was “twice as busy” in 1987, he estimated, then added with a wry smile that “it's been picking up, now that we're closing.”
       The two remaining Casa Cristal stores are the original one in Taos and another in Velarde, New Mexico, that Aguirre started in 2001.
       From a personal standpoint, part of Castillo is looking forward to the closing date. For the entire 29 years, other than a few days here and there, he alone has run the store, which is open daily. “Seven days a week gets to be too much,” he summarized.
       Castillo has mostly fond memories. “Being with my customers is the neatest thing,” he said. “I've enjoyed it. People say, 'Sef, we're going to miss you.'”

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 4/11/16; Business: Changes)

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