New merchant group born from Old Town split

       A schism in the Old Colorado City business world has led to the creation of a new merchant group.
       The Historic District Merchants (HDM), composed mainly of retail shop owners within the traditional Old Colorado City commercial area (24th to 27th streets), recently started meeting and planning promotions.
       Nancy Stovall, a shop owner and HDM director, said the group has been meeting weekly and currently consists of “a dozen or so” businesses. Others “have expressed an interest,” she added.
       The goal, as HDM Assistant Director Bernideen Canfield explained it, is to “network retailers in our area. We want to bring shoppers and diners to our district - just the three blocks and side streets - and we're specifically interested in the 35-plus age group.”
       This sets the new group apart from the long-established Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) commercial group, which promotes to younger as well as older crowds. Another difference is in the coverage area. In previous years, the OCCA has informally focused on the 24th-to-27th shopping district (historically Colorado City's downtown) while accepting memberships from others interested in affiliation. But this year, under new President Charles Irwin, the OCCA has officially defined a broader area, bounded by I-25, Manitou Springs, Uintah Street and Highway 24. This has helped the group increase in membership to more than 100 businesses.
       Early HDM activities include cooperative advertising and coupons, and bringing in the Victorian Society of Colorado Springs to carol outside members' stores Dec. 5 and 12 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Also in that time frame, the Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS) will provide free walking tours to the public, according to OCCHS Treasurer Dave Hughes.
       Stovall and Canfield emphasized that the HDM is not trying to compete with the the OCCA. “Our goal is not to hurt the other businesses in Old Colorado City,” Stovall said. “We're helping promote each other.”
       The group's activities will be small-scale at first. “We have no source of large income like they do [referring to the OCCA's Territory Days], but in time maybe we will,” Canfield said.
       For his part, Irwin said he is not bothered about the emergence of another group. “The more the merrier,” he said, noting that the recently formed Avenue Merchants group west of 31st Street is also focused on business promotion. “If they can bring more people to Old Colorado City, which is also the goal of our group, that's a good thing.”
       A schism is evident, however. Both Stovall and Canfield are past OCCA presidents and long-time organization members who had been on the current OCCA board until less than a month ago. They resigned at the same time as two other merchants/board members who are now working with HDM.
       The OCCHS' involvement reflects a switch of allegiance from the OCCA. “With small-business groups, there are going to be squabbles,” said Dave Hughes, who has worked with many of them in his years as a Westside civic leader. “But this goes much deeper.” Like others interviewed for this story, he was reluctant to describe the “deeper” parts for the record. He did offer his impressions that “the OCCA never really promoted history itself, even though we were members,” and that the new group is “very focused. They want to capitalize on the historic theme.”
       The resignations came on the heels of a heated membership meeting in late September that centered on whether the OCCA could afford to keep paying Seiko Marketing (owned by Seiko Tran) $3,000 a month to promote merchant activities and events. A minority said no, especially in light of Territory Days income being down this year (because of rain) and the related likelihood of reduced Christmas-time marketing. Some also thought Tran's promotions were aimed at too young of a crowd and doubted they were helpful to businesses other than bars and restaurants. For their part, the majority board members thought Tran's efforts had spread the word about Old Colorado City and complained that missing members on their side at a recent board meeting had been taken advantage of when the dissidents called for a vote that would have ended the Seiko contract.
       Contributing to the situation are decisions by Irwin and the OCCA board majority earlier this year to scrutinize two key areas - the organization's financial accounting and the running of Territory Days. OCCA's books had been kept for nearly 20 years by Kasten Accounting; meanwhile, Territory Days has been run for a similar amount of time by Lynda Dunne and her business, Colorado Main Events (with 2010 the last year on her current contract). Irwin said the board was not necessarily looking for irregularities in these areas - he noted in fact that none have yet been found - but the concern remains that certain “best practices” weren't being implemented.
       Based on interviews with the affected parties, some animosities appear to have developed during communications on these matters. Neither Dunne nor Kasten has complied completely with OCCA requests for past financial information. Events recently include the OCCA starting an internal audit of its past finances, terminating the contract with Kasten and hiring a lawyer to press Dunne for her documents.
       Kasten declined to go into details about her situation, but said she had performed her services over the years at a discount because she supported the OCCA's goals. “I donated thousands of hours and gave them the best deal,” she said. She is now doing the books for HDM. “I feel they're a good group of people,” she said.
       Irwin said that temporarily the OCCA accounting is being handled internally, but interviewing has occurred for a replacement firm, and one is about to be hired.
       Dunne could not be reached for comment, but it is generally conceded by all (including Irwin) that she has been responsible for expanding Territory Days to its present levels in which up to $80,000 goes to the OCCA.
       The hope with the scrutiny is to ensure a better future situation for the OCCA, Irwin explained, including incentives in the contract to save the organization money, to reduce its liability and to establish policies allowing the board to supervise sponsors and have more control over vendors.

Westside Pioneer article