Community Threads: Tying Leadville Together
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
If you’ve been around Leadville for any length of time, chances are you know Smokey. And if you don’t know the man, then you may be familiar with Community Threads, Leadville’s Thrift & Consignment Shop, created by Mark “Smokey” Burgess eight years ago.
In the great tradition of countless business owners before him, Smokey has been pedaling his goods and wares on historic Harrison Avenue for years. Add to that his modern-day, grub-staking approach, more commonly known as consignment, and you have a recipe for success that has grown into a bigger, new location. So take note, shoppers and vendors! It’s an “on-your-left,” for cyclists, runners and burro racers, as the retail-and-trail guru can now be found at the new Community Threads location at 609 Harrison Avenue in downtown Leadville. Colo.
Fortunately, outdoor enthusiasts won’t have to venture very far from the old digs, to find some of the best, used sporting equipment, new and re-purposed clothing, and local and state gift goodies all gathered in one spot. Community Threads keeps it pretty simple, and maybe that adds to the store’s sustained success in a town that sees businesses come and go with the seasons. Besides, Smokey has a secret weapon that keeps his threads tied to the community.
“People make money off of me!” Burgess said in a recent interview with Leadville Today. “I write a lot of checks to people!”
In fact, the consignment portion of his business has grown substantially over the years. And for locals, that can be a lifeline for keeping the bills paid, especially during the “off-season,” in a mountain town where it could be weeks in between paychecks.
“People will come in and ask, do I have anything on my (consignment) account?” says Burgess, who then answers, “Yes, you have $25. And they’ll be like, ‘yes, gas money!’”
It’s a business approach that bodes well in this legendary mining community. After all, the famous Horace and Augusta Tabor, Leadville’s first storekeepers, used that same model, providing early prospectors with enough food, equipment and whiskey for a month, to try their luck at mining. Of course, this old west form of consignment saw a sizeable kick back to the Tabors when the prospectors hit pay-dirt, attributing to a large portion of their wealth.
But all dreams start small and grow over time, whether you’re a Burgess or a Tabor. Smokey explains the humble beginnings of Community Threads:
“I was working out at the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, and one afternoon I was skiing with Brian Feddema (owner of Leadville’s bike shop, Cycles of Life). He said he was moving the bike shop, and I was like, ‘Wow, so that space will be open? That’s a great spot to start a business.’”
It was 2009 and Burgess was tired of working for other people. So with a small savings, along with some help and encouragement from an old girlfriend, Community Threads opened its doors across the street from the Lake County Courthouse. Smokey planned and modeled his new business after a used-gear shop that he frequented in Gunnison, Colo.
Like many Pb-Bizs, the start-up phase was filled with lessons learned and countless challenges. But as the eight years ticked by, the front-and-center store location had not only become a major retail player on the avenue, but also a gathering place for trail runners and baby-strolling mamas, all sharing information about course conditions and the news of the day.
It may come as a surprise to some, but Burgess is more than just the consignment-shop-guy. In fact, Smokey is quite comfortable on the winner’s podium concerning any number of athletic challenges, his most recent passions leaning towards Burro Racing. This dynamic duo of retail-and-trail knowledge puts Smokey’s successful business formula at the top of the charts for anyone considering hanging an OPEN sign in Leadville Today. It’s really not that complicated, but like most things, follow-though and putting one’s proverbial nose-to-the-grindstone are just the entrepreneurial facts of life.
By 2017, Community Threads had expanded considerably, even breaking through to the rarely used former banquet space, originally occupied by the Chinese restaurant. However, even that added retail area could not keep up with the growing demand.
“I had to start turning away a lot of great gear for consignment,” said Burgess, discussing the reason behind his recent re-location to 609 Harrison Avenue. And while further expansion was one of the motivators for the recent move, it wasn’t the only catalyst. In fact, it may have been last summer’s red-hot real estate market that created the tipping point.
While it was only last month that the historic Emmett Building (the shop’s former location) officially sold to a new owner, prior to that, an unreasonable jump in tax assessment had the former owner jacking-up everybody’s rent. From the commercial, street-level spaces, to the residential units on the second floor, the speculative sticker shock had arrived on Harrison Avenue.
And while that situation has (slightly) corrected itself, it was that determination by the Lake County Assessor’s office, explains Burgess, which set into motion a series of events that had Smokey keeping his eye out for a different location to house his burgeoning thrift & consignment shop.
“Even though I really didn’t want to move, I knew I had to take advantage of it,” Burgess said, sharing one of the endless decisions today’s business owners have to make. And while he did initially consider the 609 address, at that point “it wasn’t an option for what they were asking.” However, with a little rent negotiation assistance from Mike Bordogna with the Leadville/Lake County Economic Development Corporation, the deal was sealed. Although with hindsight, Community Threads may have been destined to be in its new location all along.
It was early morning, in late October when LT met up with Smokey in his new location. He was finishing up some interior painting. However, that was not the first time he had done that same chore, on those exact walls. Back then, it was for his friend, and business mentor Fritz Howard, owner of one of Leadville’s most successful home-grown businesses, Melanzana.
In fact, many may remember when the “soulful,” micro-fiber manufacturer was housed right there at 609, for years.
“I painted this for him when he was moving Melanzana in here,” Smokey reminisced. “I told Fritz, ‘You’ll never fill this space up!’ And two years later he was full.”
More than likely, that same sentiment will be echoed about Community Threads, as the new retail space doubles its size! And while that’s good for business, and good for Smokey, it’s also real good for Leadville, and all of its Community Threads.
Congratulations, Smokey! #AllTheBest in your new location and the #NextChapter!
Mark “Smokey” Burgess lives in Leadville with his wife Erin Farrow who is an Art Teacher in the Leadville schools, contributing her own beautiful talents to Leadville Today. Community Threads is located at 609 Harrison Avenue in downtown Leadville. They are open Monday – Thursday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Sundays 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Readers can connect on Facebook, or by phone at 719-486-4000.
Writer Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, A Media Company located in Leadville, Colorado which publishes LeadvilleToday.com and SaguacheToday.com. She may be reached at email@example.com. She moved to Leadville as a journalist in 1990.