The Business of Booze in Leadville Today
Leadville Liquors: Celebrating 25 Years in Lake County
“Take a chance on Leadville. We did, and it worked out!” that was the sentiment as the champagne corks popped down at Leadville Liquors earlier this month, to mark its Silver Anniversary in business! That’s right, owner Deann Skala has been bringing the Spirits of the High Country to Leadville and surrounding areas for twenty-five years today! Congratulations!
But as Skala marks the occasion with some great in-store specials and extra-special giveaways there is another sign clearly on display at the liquor store located at 1619 Poplar Street in Leadville: For Sale!
“There are quite a few of us older entrepreneurs in Leadville who are ready to retire,” explained Skala. “We are looking for some younger, hard-working folks to take over these successful businesses.”
But even during the COVID-19 Pandemic when sales have been “astronomical,” according to Skala, the reality of running a successful liquor store is just that: hard work. Many of these turnkey businesses will require a hands-on owner/operator due to the Leadville labor market, explained Skala who has had several family members working with her over those 25 years. In fact, while she does have a handful of long-term, loyal employees, the local workforce has certainly been one of the biggest challenges over the last quarter-century.
Skala bought the liquor store – formerly K’s Liquors – 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 present-day Spirits In The Shaft continues 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!
For Sale: Get Into The Booze Business
As Deann Skala marks her 25th year in business, she also marks a number of years with her business on the market. So considering the present-day “boom” that officials describe, why wouldn’t a successful, numbers to back it up quarter-century liquor business not be snatched up off the Lake County market?
“There has been interest,” said Skala referring to Leadville Liquors on-the-market status. “But it has to be somebody who wants to work the business, not just an investment.” It’s a business sentiment that echos across the Rocky Mountain region whether you operate a business or are looking to sell yours. A sparse labor market for a tourist dependant high-rent area before Coronavirus (B.C.) Leadville business owners now face different challenges with COVID-19 restrictions in place across the state.
Fortunately for Leadville Liquors, social distancing and face-cover requirements were able to be easily put in place. And certainly being the only drive-thru liquor sales option in Lake County, “we’ve been busier than ever,” reported Skala.
If you are interested in buying this Leadville business, please contact Centennial Real Estate at 719-486-1409.
Corner Bars Back Open
Without any rhyme or good reason for the extended shuttering, Leadville’s two corner bars have been allowed to officially re-open. The Manhattan Bar at 7th and Harrison and the Scarlet Bar at 3rd and Harrison, are back open with some restrictions in place. The less said the better about this good news, so keep it brief with a simple, Cheers! Mask up, and stop in to see some old friends and make some new friends.