M. and I went over to Westcliffe Friday night to watch a movie in a real (and historic) theater.
Westcliffe is not a ski town, not a river town, not a mountain-biking town. When its one ski area, Conquistador, finally faceplanted too many times and shut down in 1993, the town gave a collective yawn and got on with its real industry, building mountain mini-mansions.
There are a bazillion photos taken looking west down Main Street toward the Sangre de Cristo Range, all variations of this one:
|Add more a few more trees, neo-historic streetlamps, paving, and diagonal parking,|
and you have the Westcliffe of today.
It occurred to me as I sat on a street bench across from the Jones Theater that you could pick up the whole place and set it down in, say, Phillips County—only with neo-historic streetlamps and a "dark skies" ordinance. The two counties' populations are about the same, and the buildings would fit right in.
The only difference is that almost no one is building mini-mansions all around Phillips County, thus supporting numerous small construction firms. On the prairie there is maybe less talk about agricultural "heritage" and more actual agriculture.
Walking down Main Street, it seemed like every third retail space was for rent and almost every restaurant for sale. Chappy's, our favorite bar for Westcliffe visits, was "closed for renovation." I hope that's not a euphemism.
The Chamber of Commerce types want more economic activity. Factories? In all these towns and small cities the refrain is, "We don't want our kids to move away." But guess what, the kids are going to move away. Maybe some will come back later and find a way to make a living. Most will not. (Did I go back to Del Norte or Rapid City? Nope.)
What you can get in a place like Westcliffe:
- First-run movies
- Hardware store merchandise (the Ace store is pretty good)
- Carhart clothing (at the hardware store)
- "Western decor" items
- Paintings by local artists
- Grass-fed beef
- "Lowest-common denominator groceries" (M.'s phrase)
- Hiking boots
- Automotive repair
- The rural health clinic
What you cannot get:
- Auto parts
- Other clothing
- Specialized medical care
- All kinds of other things that send people "down the hill," leading to much Facebook angst about road conditions
So there is much complaint about how retail businesses (except hardware) cannot succeed with a season that is only four months long.
On the other hand, there seems to be little desire to be one of those resort towns with a different manufactured "festival" every other weekend throughout the year. The argument goes around and around.
But the views!