Simpiches, dolls bid farewell
Husband-wife business thrived for 54 years, last 28 in Old Colorado City
A long and prosperous Old Colorado City saga is nearly over.
Simpich Character Dolls, which began as Christmas presents for parents in 1952 when newlyweds Bob and Jan Simpich were too broke to buy gifts, will close its doors Saturday, Dec. 23 (although calls on previously placed orders will be taken until the early part of January).
Over the years, the couple developed scores of characters from clay, with still more created by their sons, Ragan and David. Jan's signature pieces have been the younger-looking, more delicate dolls, such as “The Standing Angel,” while Bob has specialized in more wizened forms, such as his various elves or the recent “End of the Line Santa.”
The finished pieces have been sold locally from their store at 2413 W. Colorado Ave. and nationally from a catalog and website (simpich.com).
The business, which employs 45 people, has been located in Old Colorado City since 1978.
The couple is ready for retirement, they said in a recent interview. “It's hard,” Jan conceded, but “when it's over, it's over.”
Classically trained artists, both plan to take a break from years of clay creations and spend more time on painting. Bob, who was School District 11's art director for 26 years already has a mural-esque group of paintings that is slated to hang in an area hospital.
The Simpiches had originally wanted to close the business at the end of 2005, but were flooded with so many orders they decided to stay with it another year. According to the website, sales had been “flat” for the past five years, so “we did not anticipate such a response.”
Even now, Bob and Jan are not sure that all orders can be filled (the last were taken Nov. 1). “We've been trying to fill orders all year,” Bob said. Added Jan, “We're doing the best we can, but we told them (people who placed later orders) that we couldn't guarantee anything.”
Character dolls are made from original molds, like sculptures, but that's just the beginning. Character dolls have to be painted, dressed and mounted, all of which require time and detailed individual effort. At Simpiches, that has involved work in recent years by 45 trained employees.
The employee dedication is one of the best parts of the story, according to the Simpiches. Staying open through this year meant giving the Simpich workers more than a year's notice.
“We were advised not to do it,” Bob said. People told them the employees would leave and find other jobs. Instead, nearly all have stayed. Even some who have found other jobs have continued to moonlight for the Simpiches on a part-time basis.
“Our people have been great,” Jan said.
During the business' early years, the couple did it all, working out of their house, with any help coming chiefly from family members. Neither had studied pottery extensively. But when their improvised Christmas presents in 1952 resulted in others seeing them and wanting dolls like them, the Simpiches began creating more, and it grew from there. “We never set out to make a business,” Bob said.
They look back affectionately but critically on those earlier pieces, recalling their constant efforts over the years to improve technically and stylistically.
Anecdotes from the early years can be found in the Simpich catalog. In 1954, when the first Simpich Angels were designed, “Bob and Jan sold an angel to purchase their Christmas tree (cost: $3.50).” In 1957, they created dolls depicting characters from classic children's stories, including Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio and Pecos Bill. And in 1959, after Bob and Jan had packed dolls on the floor for shipping, “sometimes orders were delivered to the bus station late at night, the dolls' paint barely dry,” the catalog states.
During this time, Jan and Bob had three children and they adopted another, while Bob continued to work for District 11.
The duo delayed the need for a commercial factory by fixing up where they lived. In 1955, they built a work studio onto their Manitou cabin; in 1963, they moved to a larger house on the Westside (where they still live, near the Garden of the Gods), and in 1975 they built a studio addition onto that house.
That worked until '78, when they took the big plunge. Synchronizing with Bob's retirement from District 11 - which allowed him to work full-time on the family business - the Simpiches moved their shop to the front part of the 2413 building in Old Colorado City and expanded production.
The space demands continued. First they expanded to the back of 2413, then they bought 2411, Bob recalled.
The closing will vacate 2413 W. Colorado Ave. and the upstairs of 2411 (the downstairs houses the Holly Berry House retail store). The two Simpich-owned buildings, which together comprise nearly 11,000 square feet, are for sale. The asking price is $1,050,000, according to Travis Bontrager of the realty firm of Hoff & Leigh.
The Simpich name in dolls is not completely going away. David Simpich will continue the marionette theater he developed some 20 years ago, using Simpich dolls as “actors.” And, according to the catalog, the Simpiches have created a “secondary market” on their website for buyers and sellers of their dolls.
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