Tom DeKalb comes eye-to-eye with the nation’s economic meltdown every day as he delivers mail in the heart of the Old Colorado City shopping district along West Colorado Avenue.
Here is a view of the area from FlashEarth.com:
DeKalb has been delivering mail in Colorado Springs since 1986 and what he sees as he makes his daily rounds to 300 businesses along the avenue is like nothing he’s ever seen before. Here is DeKalb as he made his rounds one day last week.
Unlike residential carriers who drive from mailbox to mailbox, DeKalb is not an anonymous as he goes door-to-door, handing shopkeepers their mail and picking up letters and packages for shipping.
In fact, DeKalb knows most of his customers by their first names. He has become a friend to many and, as a result, he hears the horror stories of the business owners who goes days at a time without making a sale. He sees the concern in their faces. He knows which shops are simply trying to hang on in hopes the Christmas shopping season will keep the afloat.
For those who don’t know the history of the neighborhood, I’ll try to summarize it, borrowing liberally from a 1997 Gazette story by Jane Turnis:
The neighborhood originally was its own town: Colorado City. It was founded in 1859 near Fountain Creek and served as a mining supply center for prospectors heading into the gold camps of South Park. Gen. William Jackson Palmer wouldn’t come along for another 10 years to begin building Colorado Springs to the east.
Colorado City suffered boom and bust cycles. For example, in 1862 it vyed to become the capital of the Colorado Territory. But by the time Palmer arrived in 1869, he described a mostly abandoned town, according to Marshall Sprague’s history, Newport in the Rockies.
Eventually, Colorado City even lost its name and became referred to as Old Town when it was annexed into Colorado Springs in 1917.
In the 1950s and ’60s, it nearly lost all hope, too.
With the building of Interstate 25 to the east and the Highway 24 bypass to the south, cars sailed on past the isolated business district. Many of the old historic buildings were empty, and most were run down. Merchants couldn’t get affordable loans; local banks had red-lined the area.
The future looked bleak for Old Town – a seven-square-block area between 24th and 28th streets, most of it along West Colorado Avenue. By 1976, Old Town had only 30 businesses – a hardware store, a couple of bars, a gun shop, a restaurant and a laundry, to name a few. The area was 45 percent vacant.
Today, it is a thriving business and shopping district. One of the most successful collaborations of public and private interests in Colorado Springs’ history revitalized the depressed area and put many people in business.
Business leaders united and created a self-taxing commercial district to create free parking lots and maintain special improvements. Using a creative funding program, they helped businesses open, obtained park funds and traffic lights and made the area a national historic district.