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Small businesses in Castle Rock use personality to their advantage - Mar. 16, 2019

A woman standing at a cash register with a rainbow shirt

Shop owner Sara Brown runs the cash register at The Barn during an afternoon rush.

CASTLE ROCK, COLO. – Valerie Hays watches customers filter into her home and garden store, Dutch & Ollie, with a warm smile and a readiness to assist. The customers move through the rows of bright, distinctive items for sale, occasionally holding the artifacts up to share them with fellow shoppers. Every so often, an interested shopper will come to her with questions about the odd trinket or decorative item they’ve found, which she passionately answers.

Shoppers are out in droves today, owing to the first spell of nice weather and the lively St. Patrick’s Day festival taking place only a block away.

Hays’ shop is just one of many that reside at The Barn, an antique and specialty shop in downtown Castle Rock.

Boutique shopping centers like The Barn have created a space for small business owners to sell their wares. Sara Brown, owner of the boutique shop Sassy Chic Mamas said the owners band together under a reputation of good customer service, quality products and a passion for their business.

Hays said that large corporations like Amazon, Walmart, and Michaels provide cheap, convenient products for their consumers, whereas small businesses tend to aim for individuality and positive personal experience.

“Their stuff is cheap,” Hays said. “It’s from China. Mine is different; It’s a different caliber, it’s done artistically, and it’s not made in a factory. I think that appeals to people.”

Shirley Dilsworth, owner of Shirley’s Treasures, has been in business for 26 years. She sells handcrafted jewelry at The Barn and has prided herself on the personal relationships she creates while doing so.

Dilsworth said the most important quality that small business owners like herself have in comparison to big-box stores is face-to-face connection.

“People get to know me,” Dilsworth said. “I’m Shirley of Shirley’s Treasures. They like talking to the business owner. I’m not here every day, but when I’m here I build that connection, I hand out my card, and they feel my enthusiasm for my product. It makes them more likely to buy from somebody who really thinks their own product is good.”

Dilsworth said that big-box workers are often dispassionate about the products they sell and are not likely to take the time to promote a beneficial reputation with their customer.

“This is my stuff, so I’m passionate about it. Dilsworth said. “The big-boxes have employees, and they may be running out the door at 5 o’clock, whereas, if I’ve got a customer at 5:20, 6 o’clock, 6:20, I’m here.”

Alexander E.M. Hess and Douglas McIntyre of 24/7 Wall St. back up this statement. “Employee dissatisfaction with their employers may also be playing a role with poor customer service,” said Hess. “Large retailers often pay their employees fairly low wages, and they offer few benefits and insufficient hours to satisfy workers.”

Mike Kappel, a contributor to Forbes, says there are benefits to keeping money in a community.

“Circulating money in the same locality helps that community thrive,” Kappel said, “A strong network of local funds enables individuals and businesses within a community to support each other.”

Hays and Dilworth said they do whatever they can to give their customers a positive experience. Their customer service and attention to detail are what say they draw customers back to their shops, and what gives them a leg up on the competition.

Thunder on the Mountain: Brandon DuVal's Story - February, 2018.

man standing in front of a mountain with a blue sky behind

Brandon Duval admires the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park's Emerald Lake.

Brandon Duval, 22, makes his way down a Double Black Diamond, a formidable feat by any skier’s standards.

The icy mists that hover on the highest part of the mountain rush around him, taking with them the thoughts that have weighed heaviest on his mind.

He knows that the end of the run will mark the transition from the frosty surrealism of the mountain to the grind of everyday life, but he digs into every corner as if it were his last.

Duval has worked at Frisco’s Copper Mountain Ski Resort for over three years and has contemplated leaving life on the mountain for a shot at a steady career in the Front Range.

“This job is great for somebody who wants to be a bum, but I would actually like to further a career,” Duval said. “I’d like to start a career, I’d like to do something with my life to where I can make some more money, and then it’s like, now I’ve got the fuckin’ lightbulb in the closet going on, saying, ‘Hey dummy, you know what you want to do now, you should go follow it,’ and basically its saying, you know, ‘To excel in the area that I would like to excel, I’d have to leave the mountains.'”

Like so many people that go to the mountains to work at ski resorts, Duval is open to new ideas, does his best to make others feel welcome, and would give the shirt off his back to someone in need. He can often be seen wearing a flannel shirt, cargo shorts and a beanie, even in the coldest weather.

“When people first meet Brandon [Duval], they find that he’s easy to talk to, knowledgeable on subjects, and is open to share his opinions on a wide variety of topics,” said Duval’s girlfriend, Sophie Ferguson. “People will assume his appearance is interesting or odd, but soon find out it’s Brandon’s fun and happy personality that reflect in his outfit.”

Duval works as a property manager for Copper Mountain’s housing division, but initially got his start as a lift operator. Many of the lift operators, like Duval, began working at Copper Mountain out of high school.

“I see a lot of kids come up here,” Duval said. “They’re 18, 19 years old, they don’t know what they want to do yet, and it’s like, 'Guys, just take advantage of all this opportunity in front of you. You’re 19 years old, you don’t have any debt yet, you’re living in affordable income housing, and you’re living with kids that are your same age. You’re making money.'”

Duval said the turnover rate for lift operators is the highest at Copper Mountain, often due to an inability to switch between having fun and being professional. Most lift operators are young, and some see their work as a vacation from the usual.

“There are certain times when you get to enjoy your atmosphere, and then there’s certain times when you really need to straighten it out, refine it, and get to work,” Duval said. "Once those tourists come and start asking questions, you need to become a little bit more professional.

According to Duval, simply messing around isn’t always the worst thing done during work hours.

“I mean, if you look at lift operation, you’ve got kids that are smoking pot, doing cocaine, whatever, on the lift time during work, and that’s the issue,” Duval said. “If you can’t conceal it to where you look good, and no one’s going to detect you, somebody will figure your shit out.”

He has managed to work his way up the ranks at Copper Mountain without blurring the lines of work and free time.

“The biggest takeaway from the mountain? It’s the work ethic,” Duval said. “If you are truly and fully invested in the mountain and being up here, you get this sense that you’re of kind like the mountain. You become hardened and you shave away all the bullshit. You’re just like ‘You know what? If this person is gossiping to me about something that has no relevance to me, and I’ve got a task that I need to complete by the end of the day, I’m gonna just close my ears and get that task done.'”

Duval has attempted to give up his life on the mountain in favor of one with more stability in the past, but said he was not suited for it at the time.

“When I first tried to do it, back when I was 18 or 19, after that first season I tried to move to Fort Collins,” Duval said. “I was not ready in any way to be an adult. I was just like, ‘I just want to live with friends, I just want to mess around.”

Duval ended up moving back to Copper Mountain, but realized after several years that his worldview was no longer compatible with that of the other employees there.

“I could go off and be a 19 year old kid up in the mountains making minimum wage messing around and skiing every day,” Duval said. “That, to me, sounded better, but then when I got up here, there’s just a very, very high level of immaturity around me, in my opinion, to where these kids don’t want to work. They don’t want to put in the time to become better than what they are, they just want to stay where they are, and they just want to bum, and it’s like, ‘man that’s not me.’"

Duval said his aspirations are higher than what Copper Mountain can give him.

"I want to excel in the position that I’m at and I’m pretty much at my cap," Duval said. "There’s no higher pay for me and there’s no higher position.”

According to Duval, the skills he has obtained on the mountain will give him the ability to find a career in the Front Range.

“I call it Copper University, because you get all the experiences of college, but without the college part,” Duval said. “You know, the traits that I do have and say that I have from this place are phenomenal. And the work experience. I have a lot of work experience that will help transition me into a new job. It’s just like, you know, the harder you work, the better it pays off. That’s what really sets the tone between someone who’s going to make it, and someone who’s going to fall on their face.”

Duval hopes that he can earn certification in HVAC, electrical and plumbing to further realize his goal of a career in property management.

“If I go get certification, and I go get these things, I can make $20 plus an hour at any job in HVAC or property management,” Duval said. “I mean, starting property management is $60,000 a year."

Duval says the high cost of living in Summit County has affected his ability to live off of a steady income.

"Up here, I live the poorest of poor," Duval said. "I mean, I’ve lived it to where, you know, within four days of getting a check, I’m broke again. It’s the most expensive county in Colorado.”

For the time being, Duval will continue to enjoy his time on the mountain. He spends his free time skiing, often using his runs to meditate on his next move.

“It’s one of the things that helps me, because it’s like, ‘Okay, so I want to move down to Fort Collins, - and that’s something that’s been weighing heavy on me – I’ll go ski about it, you know?'” Duval said. “When I’m skiing, I might be thinking actively of skiing, but when I sit on the chair lift I can kind of step back and look at it from a different perspective, you know, I think about it a lot deeper, I think about things with more of an accepting perception.”

A few of my articles can be found at my other website, here.