Leadville Liquors: Celebrating 20 Years in Lake County
If you hear some extra champagne corks popping down at Leadville Liquors today, it’s to mark their two decades in business! That’s right, owner Deann Skala has been bringing the Spirits of the High Country to Leadville and surrounding areas for twenty years today! Congratulations!
To mark the occasion there will be some great in-store specials, some extra-special giveaways (not your usual swag!) and some live radio broadcasts at the liquor store located at 1619 Poplar Street in Leadville.
“I want to thank all of my loyal customers for 20 years in business,” said Skala about the August 15 celebration. “It’s important to let people know that supporting a small local business like mine allows me to employ people and give back to the community as well.”
But the reality of running a successful liquor store is that it’s the business of hard work. It all started for Skala nearly 20 years ago in Leadville Today when she bought the liquor store back in August, 1996. She wasted no time in getting to work on improvements.
“The first thing we did was pave the parking lot and put in a walkway in 1997,” recalled Skala during a recent interview with Leadville Today. “The (former) back door is now the front door.”
There were major upgrades to the interior as well. Today when you walk into Leadville Liquors, the inventory & selection, display cases and electronic sales system are a far cry from the really small old packhouse with the plywood shelves.
Since then, it seems that Leadville Liquors has been constantly improving and expanding, making it the largest discount liquor store in the area.
Big Selection, Competitive Prices.
“I’m pretty much the cheapest guy around,” stated Skala. “And I try to keep my prices that way. We’re all hard-working, blue-collar people and we deserve to have a break.”
In many ways, Skala’s business model is one that has worked well in Lake County. It’s certainly a thriving venture and not just because of its product! Skala’s hard work, determined growth, opportunity-seizing methods, and dogged determination make up a good playbook for anyone considering starting a business in Lake County.
Today the Leadville Liquors building is four times the store’s original size, most of that being storage and refrigeration space. Because, in the liquor business, in order to stay competitive, you need to have the storage space to stock up on the good deals distributors can offer, passing the savings along to the consumer, motivating them to buy local.
Storage is king! Expansion = increased profits!
Ever the competitive businesswoman, Skala knows that there are options. “I get down to Apple Jack (Liquors in Denver) prices,” she states, knowing that some locals still pick up their moonshine down in the big city. “I can’t always beat their sales, but I meet their regular prices.”
Some would say it was the big renovation in 2002 that took Leadville Liquors to that next level. The subsequent expansion involved buying the property to the east of the liquor store. When the property came on the market, Skala seized the opportunity and bought the lots and the old, barnlike structure.
Of course there are always the unforeseen events that test a business owner’s mettle as well. In 2005, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) underwent a major construction project to widen Highway 24. That’s when the sidewalks and middle turn lane were added to that stretch of locally known Poplar Street. Skala was faced with another upgrade project, but not one she necessarily planned or budgeted for. But when your business is located adjacent to a major highway project, you roll with it and mitigate any negative impacts.
One bourbon, one scotch and lots of beer!
Unfortunately, by the time CDOT got done with their original plan, Leadville Liquors was left with a pile of “sand and cigarettes” next to the drive-up window. In addition, the reconfiguring of the highway at that juncture left people thinking that the drive thru window was a thoroughfare to wherever they were going.
Eventually, Skala had to pull a building permit and spend thousands of dollars building a more welcoming entryway into her liquor store. Today the burm located east of the store provides a lovely burst of color in the summer and pays tribute to Leadville’s mining heritage with an original ore cart perched in the center.
Today Leadville Liquors stands as one of the biggest discount liquor stores in the area.
“You don’t run a small business in a small town without living in it,” Skala states matter of factly when asked about some of her keys to success. When first starting out, it was Skala keeping the doors open during the day, and a couple of people working the night shift; now she employs 10 people as well as seasonal employees when needed. But Skala understands that as a business owner, the buck stops with here when someone calls in sick or simply doesn’t show up for work, she often pulls the extra shift.
Community relations and involvement is another key factor to business sustainability, she believes. If you didn’t know, Skala was the creator of the annual wine tasting in Leadville. Not only did it provide Leadvillites with a fun winter event, showcasing the liquor store’s offerings and teaching folks about wine, but it also raised money for local organizations.
And while Skala officially passed on the “wine-tasting baton” a number of years ago, the Miner’s Masquerade Ball and Wine Tasting continue to be one of Leadville’s premier winter events.
“My goal was to give something to the hard-working blue-collar Leadville people: More choices and lower prices,” concluded Skala. Mission accomplished!