Editor’s note: This is the latest in a Courier series on local businesses
While online shopping is “in” these days, Woodland Park business owners are keeping the doors open by relying on customer service and quality products, merchandise or food that distinguishes them from the easy-click/easy-delivery option. This week, The Courier features a business that reflects staying power and two that count on innovation to separate themselves from the others.
Pikes Peak Polaris
In a prime spot for real estate, Jeff Book’s Pikes Peak Polaris on Woodland Park’s main street reflects the area’s appeal to people who enjoy the outdoors. The shop sells off-road vehicles in addition to offering repair services.
“I have people coming from 150 to 200 miles away for us to work on their vehicles,” said Book, who launched the business in 1990.
Book is a Woodland Park High School graduate and has roots three generations deep. He knows everybody in town and remembers what used to be where. After graduation, Book worked in the family business, Texaco filling stations, which included one in Woodland Park adjacent to the eventual site of the Polaris dealership at 300 W. Midland Ave.
In 1983, he built an automotive repair shop that today is the office of Teller County Waste on West Street. “I got tired of working on cars; they’re hard on the body,” he said. “You’re bent over, everything’s heavy.”
By the time he opened Pikes Peak Polaris, Book had a well-established reputation as a businessman. “My dad (Jim Book) suggested I become a Polaris dealer because we were snowmobilers,” he said.
To pay the bills until he earned off-road vehicle certification in 1993, Book sold hunting, fishing and camping equipment. Then the bottom fell out after the Hayman Fire in 2002. “The forest was closed to everybody, for anybody to do anything,” he said. “So I eliminated my sporting goods and went straight to (selling) just Polaris.”
If staying power means riding the waves of uncertainty, Book is a winner. Because of a misunderstanding, Book’s Polaris dealer canceled his order while the fire still burned. “The fire got out and hunting season hit and I didn’t have anything to sell,” he said. “I was scrambling; my dad would go all over to get machines for me to sell.”
Today, Book is capitalizing on the latest outdoor craze. “We’re out-of-control,” he said. “Normally, in the wintertime, business drops off, but with all this off-road stuff, it’s just gone crazy.”
Book said he isn’t feeling the Amazon squeeze to any degree of worry. “I have people say they’ll order parts on Amazon,” he said. “I say, ‘OK, have a good time.’ I have enough work here for two weeks if nothing else walks in the door.”
Judge’s Char Grill
As restaurants come and go in Woodland Park, Judge’s Char Grill, 108 E. Midland Ave., is an old-fashioned mom-and-pop place where the owners and their children do nearly everything.
Fernando and Anna Morales bought the restaurant in June and count on the popularity of their specialties to keep customers coming back. “We are trying to do something different such as carne asada fries, churros — with a nice presentation — and burgers,” he said.
Fernando Morales came to the United States six years ago from Mexico City, where he owned a successful car dealership. Within months, Anna and the children, Max, 16, and Emy, 11, joined him.
Morales slowly made his way to becoming one of Woodland Park’s entrepreneurs. From gigs dishwashing in a Mexican restaurant to cooking at restaurants in Manitou Springs, Morales had a plan.
Hired as a cook at Judge’s, Morales worked his way up to the manager position before buying the restaurant. “When I got here from Mexico I started saving money (because) you never know,” he said. “So I got the opportunity. And I’ve been successful so far.”
Within a few months after the Morales family took ownership, Judge Char Grill has established a following for the hamburgers, the Fire Pit, for instance. Not for the faint of heart or appetite, the burger is loaded, with grilled jalapenos and onions, lettuce, pepper jack cheese and sriracha mayonnaise.
The Judge Burger has bacon, onion rings, mushrooms, cheese, pickles and Judge’s sauce. “It’s a huge burger,” he said.
Shirley Douthit of Woodland Park is a fan. “Judge’s has the best burgers in town and their new weekend special, authentic Mexican Street Tacos, is awesome!” she said.
If the burgers aren’t enough, the couple makes cream pies — banana, coconut and chocolate — for dessert. “And the churros are the bomb,” Morales said. “We fry them first, sprinkle with a little bit of sugar and cinnamon and serve them with ice cream, whipped cream, a cherry and either chocolate or strawberry sauce.”
Morales attributes his drive and his ability to climb the entrepreneurial ladder to his faith. “When I got here I knew no English, only ‘hi how are you?’” he said.
The Morales children help out when they’re not in school. “My kids are happy they’re Americans now,” he said. “We are very excited to run the business.”
Bella Spirit Designs
Artistic in spirit, Vera Egbert gave up banking to devote herself full-time to her boutique in Woodland Park. With Bella Spirit Designs, Egbert is able to sell her handmade jewelry along with apparel and accessories, scarves and handbags.
“I taught myself how to bead and took classes in silversmithing and precious metal clay at the Bemis School of Art (at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College),” she said.
Egbert built a following for her jewelry over the years. It started as a sideline to her banking career and then eased her transition from finance to fashion. “It was time to be artistic and creative,” she said. “I like to do custom work, so if you have a fancy dress and want a necklace to go with it, I can do that. We can design the necklace for your price point.”
Egbert offers private showings that include fashion advice and requests for specific items. Among the brand names in the shop are the American-made Jess and Jane and Tempo Paris. Other lines include Vintage Concept. “A lot of things I bring in are samples from the Mart in Denver,” she said. “If I get a good deal there I give a good deal to my customers.”
Egbert also shows her jewelry in shows such as Once Upon a Time in the West and recently the Chipita Park Association Craft Fair.
In the age when brick-and-mortar stores compete for the consumer’s pocketbook, Egbert is betting on both sides. “My jewelry inventory is always changing. And it’s going online soon,” she said.
But the shop in a little cabin at 250 Laura Lane is cozy and inviting. And by doing business away from other commercial sectors in the city, Egbert is an entrepreneurial outlier. “I don’t want to have a full-time shop on the main drag downtown,” she said. “It’s very expensive and there’s not enough traffic to make a living at it.”
For information about hours or to make an appointment, contact Egbert at 649-9453 or [email protected]
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