Before Tejon Street Market closed its doors for good on Dec. 10 due to slumping sales, many observers saw it coming.
For 18 months, the market offered locally grown produce and organic goods downtown. The idea was to offer an independent, eco-friendly alternative to big-box grocers operating on the city's outskirts.
But consumers never came in sufficient numbers, and as money ran out, the store's selection dwindled. Some items stood solitary on the shelves.
"I think the majority of Colorado Springs is a Wal-Mart shopper," says Melissa Marts, co-owner of the business.
Yet downtown residents who enjoyed shopping for food within walking distance of their homes soon will have a replacement. The market's demise will make room for a new food store under different management, called Tejon Street Grocery.
Scott Long, who owns the 321 N. Tejon St. property, says the new business will be a "high-end gourmet deli" and likely will open in early February 2006.
While Tejon Street Market had offered a deli-style caf, it also had tried to accomplish other, more lofty goals. It had been touted as a focal point for various community projects, including the Pikes Peak Independent Business Alliance (PPIBA) and the Beneficial Farm & Ranch Cooperative. Beneficial sold locally grown, chemical-free produce and hormone-free meats there.
The common theme linking these projects was the idea of sustainability: that local economies and ecosystems respond positively when supported by consumers who vote for progress with their dollars.
But in the case of the market, sustainability proved to be unsustainable. The business simply couldn't meet its expenses, including, Marts says, the high cost of operating downtown. She claims to have paid $19 per square foot in rent and related costs on the 4,000-square-foot property. Long disputes that amount, though he declines to provide details.
"We probably should have started in a smaller space," Marts says.
"It's a hard era for these independents," says Dan Hobbs, an organic farmer who helped found Beneficial and the Tres Rios food co-op. "Tejon couldn't compete with Whole Foods."
Now the Beneficial farmers need to find a new place to distribute their products, he says, adding that losing the market was "heartbreaking."
Andy Gipe, president of PPIBA, says that the market's closing amounts to a "huge loss" for downtown.
The thing standing in the way of a downtown resurgence, he says, is that many property owners want top rents up front. Real estate companies, he says, potentially could subsidize a grocery store and market it as an amenity.
City Councilman Richard Skorman, who owns the Poor Richard's complex of stores on Tejon Street, says such subsidies are unlikely.
He says it's up to consumers to put their money where their mouths are. "People love the idea of a downtown homespun business," he says. "But they often don't support it to sustain it."
-- Dan Wilcock
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