November 04, 2015 News » Cover Story

Mr. Skorman's neighborhood 

How one maverick and his small-business empire changed Colorado Springs history over 40 years

click to enlarge Poor Richard's has been a cozy gathering place for locals for many years, but it's also been at the heart of social and political change. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Poor Richard's has been a cozy gathering place for locals for many years, but it's also been at the heart of social and political change.

Back in 1989, Ray Oldenburg wrote a book that would become the foundation of many community-building efforts across the nation.

Called The Great Good Place, it examined the political, social and emotional importance of having a "third place" to go to other than home and work. It might be a bar, a café or a bowling alley, but the locale Oldenburg was describing was a home away from home — or, to borrow from the old Cheers theme, a place "where everybody knows your name."

"The course of urban development in America is pushing the individual toward that line separating proud independence from pitiable isolation," Oldenburg wrote.

Since 1975, many Colorado Springs residents have discovered their third place at Poor Richard's. The downtown icon is home to a bookstore, gift shop, toy store, restaurant, café and wine bar. All are interconnected, allowing the squeal of playing children to blend with the sound of live music or the muffled conversation of a networking lunch. Richard Skorman, who founded this business 40 years ago, can still be found wandering the complex, often clearing plates from a table or chatting with longtime customers. To those who love it, Poor Richard's feels like more than a business — it feels alive.

What isn't obvious on first glance is how much of the city's evolution has been shaped inside these walls. Poor Richard's has borne witness to triumphs and defeats, major social movements, protests and celebrations. It was this place that gave birth to an initiative that saved major swaths of open space from the developer's shovel; this place that sheltered outcasts in a time of discrimination and refugees in a time of crisis; this place that nurtured young entrepreneurs and idealists who would go on to change this city in their own right. Over four decades, Poor Richard's survived a fire, weathered death threats, overcame failures and reinventions.

And it did all this under the leadership of Skorman, who evolved from a playful college kid to a voice of change to vice mayor.

Mary Lou Makepeace, a former Colorado Springs mayor and then leader of the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado, says Skorman was successful because he never compromised his values, but was never a bully.

He has, she says, "a gentle way."

"Richard has kept the progressive perspective alive and well in Colorado Springs," Makepeace says. "I mean, I wonder if Richard hadn't been here, and been active in all the things he's been active in, if we would be as far along as we are now. ... I think we'd be a far different place, if not for Richard."

When Skorman was growing up in Akron, Ohio, his father ran one of the nation's first discount stores with help from the family, including his three sons.

The experience gave Skorman the business sense that would serve him later, and the store was successful for many years. In the 1950s, the elder Skorman met a young entrepreneur named Sam Walton and agreed to show him the ropes. It was the store Walton would found, Wal-Mart, that was largely responsible for driving the Skorman store out of business in 1975.

But the younger Skorman was already on to other things. In 1970, he came to Colorado Springs to attend Colorado College, where he majored in art studio, focusing on cartooning. But his real passion was the movies, and he went to a theater called The Flick almost every day to see the latest art, foreign or documentary film. In his spare hours, Skorman worked at the Granite Harp Book Store on Tejon Street.

He was 22 years old and in his senior year of college when the Granite Harp folded. Skorman made a deal with the owner to buy his stock at a bargain price. He purchased ammo cases from Surplus City for 29 cents each, hammered them together and placed them on cinder-blocks to make bookshelves.

Poor Richard's Used Paperbacks opened in 1975 in an old house at 519 N. Tejon St. It cost Skorman all of a couple thousand dollars to open, plus $100 in rent per month, and he continued to build up his stock of books with donations from friends, trades with other bookstores, and trips to thrift stores and garage sales. Since he was still in school, he left his cash box on the counter while he was in class. He placed a calculator and a sign next to it asking people to make their own change.

"Nobody ever took a penny out of it that I could tell," Skorman recalls. "That was an era when you could do that."

Two years after the bookstore opened, a couple of events allowed Skorman to expand the reach of the store. Skorman's grandfather passed away and left him $5,000, and his father, who had recently closed a snack bar, agreed to give Skorman his old restaurant equipment. With $3,000 in loans from his brothers, Skorman opened Poor Richard's Feed and Read at 3241/2 N. Tejon St.

He remembers begging the landlord for a one-year lease because he didn't think the business would last long, though the concept, Skorman says, was fairly novel at the time: a bookstore and café where people could hang out and read the books.

"The notion was to have the books so people could feel comfortable sitting and staying and being able to feel like they're not being rushed out of their seat," he says. "It's been that atmosphere that's really stayed with us."

Coming from a Jewish family who loved cooking, Skorman also wanted to offer a greater variety of cuisine. His was the first place in town to grind its own coffee beans, and to serve espresso, bagels and frozen yogurt. The now-ubiquitous foods were making a splash in California and New York at the time but were completely foreign in Colorado Springs, where customers struggled to pronounce "cappuccino."

Michael Hannigan was a classmate of Skorman's back in their CC days, though he's better known now as the retired CEO of Pikes Peak Community Foundation and a current CC innovator-in-residence. His favorite memory of the store in those early days was a night when Edward Abbey, the noted author and controversial environmentalist, came to speak at CC. When Abbey asked where he could get a beer afterward, someone shouted "Poor Richard's!" Hannigan was among the crowd that got to sit down to a drink with Abbey.

Poor Richard's was a beloved spot for young people in those days, Hannigan says, in part because there were few other places to go.

"Downtown was a pretty desolate place in the mid-'70s," he says. "People used to joke that you could roll a bowling ball down Tejon at midday and not hit anybody."

click to enlarge Skorman in New York in the late '80s, when he was focused on film. - COURTESY RICHARD SKORMAN
  • Courtesy Richard Skorman
  • Skorman in New York in the late '80s, when he was focused on film.

Around 1980, Skorman decided to start showing movies in his store. The Flick had closed in 1978 because the downtown building's conservative owner objected to the content of the films.

In those early years, Poor Richard's was a beatnik paradise. Skorman was a long-haired hippie who wandered the store with a parrot on his shoulder. Eventually, the health inspector told him he couldn't have the bird in the shop and Skorman simply gave the parrot to the inspector — it squawked too loudly during movies anyway.

Originally, the theater in Poor Richard's was just a back room with about 30 beach chairs of varying heights in it. It worked for a while, but soon the walls of books were literally closing in, and in 1982 Skorman decided to leave the café where it was and move the bookstore and the theater across the street. He added bookshelves on wheels so they could be pushed out of the way at night to show movies.

"[It] was just like the most laid-back evening imaginable," Kathryn Eastburn, a local author, co-founder of the Independent and longtime Poor Richard's customer, remembers. "It was kind of like watching a movie at home, only you weren't at home."

Those were carefree years. Once during a movie, the film broke toward the end of the showing of Little Murders, starring Elliott Gould. Skorman walked to the front of the audience and acted out the last scene, adopting different voices for each of the characters. Everyone laughed and walked home with a refund.

But it was also in those early years that Poor Richard's faced its first real challenge. In the early hours of Sept. 13, 1982, a man believed to have lived in a room rental above the café broke in, stole what he could, covered the place in honey and flour, and set it on fire. The tenants who lived above the business escaped, though they had to run through clouds of black smoke. The perpetrator was thought to be a serial arsonist, though he was never caught.

"It's a horrible experience," Skorman told the Colorado College Catalyst in 1982. "[F]ortunately no one was hurt. We've had tremendous support from the community. We're not being martyrs about it. No one got hurt and everything can be replaced."

The fire, however, caused devastating damage. Skorman had insurance, but not nearly enough. Luckily, community members gave donations, the store's employees agreed to help rebuild the store, and the store got help from plumbers and carpenters who showed up and offered their services for free.

"We were really brought back by the community," Skorman recalls. "It's always made us want to be generous as a business because of what people did for us back then."

Famed Beat poet Allen Ginsberg even did a benefit for the store at Palmer High School, raking in about $5,000. Skorman recalls that Ginsberg went out to his car that night to get more books when a man with a knife threatened him and demanded his money. Ginsberg refused. That's when Skorman walked outside. Seeing what was going on, he called for others.

When a crowd amassed, the man with the knife backed down. Ginsberg always insisted that Skorman saved his life.

At the same time that he was running his growing business, Skorman began pursuing another passion in 1985, working as a film critic for the Colorado Springs Sun (a daily that the Gazette bought out in 1986). In 1986, he scored a book contract and decided to move to New York City to pursue it.

Skorman sold his café to some of his employees, figuring he could run the theater and the bookstore remotely. It didn't take him long to complete the book, which was meant to capitalize on the VHS craze, explaining to movie-lovers how to pick out great arts films. But Skorman decided to stay in New York a little longer after he met Patricia Seator.

Seator had grown up in a small town but moved to New York to pursue her dreams. She was a psychologist and a lover of art and film. At the time, she was running an alternative arts program for youthful offenders. She loved it, but she also loved Skorman.

She stayed in New York for a while after Skorman returned to Colorado Springs — but eventually she caved and joined him in the West in 1990. They married several years later.

click to enlarge Skorman and Seator now run Poor Richard's as a husband-and-wife team. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Skorman and Seator now run Poor Richard's as a husband-and-wife team.

When Skorman returned, he was eager to start pursuing new ideas. He founded the U.S. Environmental Film Festival in 1990, which brought big names like Olivia Newton-John, Ted Danson and Cesar Chavez to town, and highlighted movies that Skorman was passionate about.

It was the nation's first environmental film festival and sold 10,000 tickets in its first year in Colorado Springs, before moving to Los Angeles in its second year. But the festival was a money drain, leaving Skorman with a sizable debt, and it ended after the second year.

His other new idea, pizza, proved more successful. Skorman bought back his restaurant in 1992 and added the New York-style treat, hiring a talented 20-year-old to throw the dough in his kitchen. The young Joseph Coleman later started his own restaurants. He now owns Nosh, The Blue Star, La'au's Taco Shop, The Principal's Office and Old School Bakery.

"Richard is quite possibly the finest person I've ever worked for," Coleman says now.

Coleman had worked in restaurants since he was 14, and he says he was "really aggressive" as a young man, focusing solely on getting as many people moved through the business as possible in order to maximize the bottom line. Skorman, he says, valued more than the money. He wanted his business to be about helping people and the community.

Coleman remembers Skorman taking him for walks (once, they walked the entire Section 16 Trail) and talking to him about being more patient. Coleman always thought Skorman would fire him, but he never did.

"He was so impactful in the way he — I thought of things in a very minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour way, and he saw things in a much bigger picture," Coleman says.

Shortly before Seator arrived from New York, Skorman faced down his second major crisis.

He wanted to show the highly controversial Martin Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ in his little movie theater. At the time, Skorman rented his commercial space from First Christian Church, which didn't take kindly to him showing a film that depicts Jesus' sexual fantasies. So, Skorman moved it to All Souls Unitarian Church.

That created a second problem. Universal Pictures didn't have a license to show the film in a church, and asked him to cancel. By that time, he had already sold thousands of tickets for seven showings, and he ended up telling the company that if they stopped him from showing the movie, he'd make a stink about it in the press.

"That kind of squeaked by, but at the time it was kind of dicey," Skorman says.

To top it off, the movie ended up being painted all over the press anyway. Conservatives planned protests for every showing of the movie, and picketed Poor Richard's. Worse, Skorman received bomb threats ahead of the showings.

At the time, Warren Epstein was a new entertainment writer at the Gazette. He says he remembers the film causing a stir in the local religious community.

"That was a weird cultural time," he says. "The cultural rift of Colorado Springs was more of an in-your-face thing. There were people regularly having long prayers before eating at Poor Richard's."

The police, Skorman says, did a search of the church before opening night, but ultimately told him that they couldn't guarantee it was safe, and that it was up to Skorman to decide whether to show the film. The threat he had received said the bomb would go off at 7:30 p.m.

He decided to go through with it, but made sure he was sitting in the pews at 7:30 — he didn't want to survive if a bomb killed all those people. When the time rolled around, a snake was exploding on the movie screen, causing a loud bang.

"I yelped," Skorman remembers, "and people didn't know why."

That moment was the beginning of a highly political period for both Skorman and the store — a signal of major changes to come.

click to enlarge Seator has helped move Poor Richard's into the modern age, bringing in books, cards and gifts. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Seator has helped move Poor Richard's into the modern age, bringing in books, cards and gifts.

In 1992, Skorman sold his movie theater to Kimball Bayles. It's now its own downtown icon, Kimball's Peak Three Theater. Skorman's old projector sits in the lobby.

That was also the year that Colorado voters passed Amendment 2, which banned any legally protected status for LGBT people. Makepeace says the passage of the law shocked the local progressive community.

"We didn't know what we were in for, to tell you the truth," she says. "My friends had bumper stickers that said 'hate is not a family value' and we thought that would be sufficient, and we were quite stunned when the measure passed. We were naive, I guess."

It was a pivotal moment for Skorman, who first became aware of the plight of LGBT people through a gay college roommate and lifelong friend who died of AIDS in 1990, as well as a cousin who hid his sexuality and eventually committed suicide around the same time. Poor Richard's became the unofficial headquarters for the fight against the law in Colorado Springs, and Skorman became a visible frontman, even debating its conservative author Will Perkins.

"I was just so hurt by Amendment 2," Skorman remembers. "I just felt like so many people I knew and friends and family members had just gotten kicked in the stomach."

Skorman was a founding board member of the nonprofit Citizens Project, which had been created earlier that year "to counter the growing influence of extremists in the Pikes Peak Region, primarily in public schools." After the passage of Amendment 2, Citizens Project turned its attention to battling the law. Its offices were in Poor Richard's, which was also a meeting place for like-minded groups, like the gay rights group Ground Zero.

"Poor Richard's became a place where people felt comfortable," Skorman says.

It also became a target. Skorman found himself on conservative boycott lists, a swastika was painted on a Poor Richard's bathroom wall, and a brick was thrown through its window. Death threats were left on Skorman's home answering machine, until Seator put her own voice on the message. (Apparently, the perpetrators were less apt to threaten a woman.) Speaking of which, Seator, who had come from liberal New York, was sort of freaking out.

"I felt so unsafe and so scared being here," she recalls. "It felt like we were on the front lines of social change."

She remembers getting calls from friends in New York who were outraged by the homophobic attitudes in the Springs. But she says she also felt like it was a huge learning experience to have to speak to — or even sit down to dinner with — those who didn't agree with her.

"When you live in San Francisco or New York, you're surrounded by people who feel the same way as you," she says.

Skorman thought part of the problem was that there was very little media sympathy toward LGBT people in the Springs. (The Gazette, then known as the Gazette-Telegraph, was a notable supporter of Amendment 2.) He started looking into founding a paper that would tell the other side of the story. It was Skorman's curiosity that got the ball rolling on what would become the Colorado Springs Independent — though he ultimately decided not be involved in the founding of the paper.

"Without Richard's full-throated support, there would have been no Independent newspaper," founding Independent publisher John Weiss says. "Back in 1993, his wisdom, connections, coffee, pizza and donated office space enabled Kathryn Eastburn and I to launch this paper."

Amendment 2 was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996.

By the mid-1990s, Skorman began focusing on a new goal. Working with trails advocates including Weiss and community advocate Annie Oatman-Gardner, he helped develop the Trails, Open Space and Parks dedicated 0.1 percent sales tax ballot question in 1995.

In the midst of a major development boom, the tax sought to preserve open spaces around Colorado Springs for future generations to enjoy.

It went down in flames. But the group reorganized, tried again and the measure passed in 1997. It was renewed with overwhelming support in 2003. Over the years, TOPS has allowed the city to purchase 4,570 acres of open space (and helped the state and the city of Manitou Springs preserve even more), built 26 new parks (and done a number of park projects such as the skateboard park in Memorial Park) and constructed 29.9 miles of urban trails (that includes 10 pedestrian underpasses and 15 new pedestrian bridges).

The TOPS initiative has been partially or fully responsible for the preservation of Red Rock Canyon, Blodgett Peak, Blue Stem, High Chaparral, Union Meadows, Section 16, Corral Bluffs, White Acres, Iron Mountain, University Park and Stratton Open Spaces, as well as Cheyenne Mountain State Park, among others. When it passed, many of today's popular open spaces had been master-planned for development.

The general consensus was that TOPS passed the second time because it had a broader base of support. Skorman, and the people he surrounded himself with, seemed to be undergoing a shift in their approach to politics, with more of an emphasis on bridge-building.

One of the most obvious examples of this was the emphasis in the second TOPS campaign on getting the support of the development community — the very people who often had other plans for this land. Fred Veitch, vice president of Nor'wood Development Group, was working with The Schuck Corporation at the time. A lover of the outdoors, Veitch was happy to help with the TOPS effort — he even went the extra mile and convinced engineers and others in his business to volunteer for TOPS and the city parks department to tackle tough trail connection challenges.

Veitch says he didn't see this as a betrayal of development interests — quite the opposite.

"I think it goes hand-in-hand with what the development community wanted to do," he says "I think the development community recognizes that open space is an economic driver."

Even with the passage of TOPS, Stratton came dangerously close to development because City Council didn't want it to be the first TOPS purchase due to its proximity to other open space. Skorman led the effort to save it, making a deal with City Council and the landowner: If he could raise $1.5 million from the community, Council would agree to pay the remainder to buy it. Still sporting a ponytail, Skorman was a regular guest at Broadmoor-area homes where he solicited donations. He and a team of volunteers raised $1.6 million in three months.

Hannigan, who lived near Stratton at the time, was a part of that effort. He says volunteers were opening their Rolodexes and calling everyone to ask for support and donations. To Hannigan, it seemed like a turning point for Skorman.

"I think it just gave him the chance to think about bigger ways to make a positive impact on Colorado Springs," he says.

With the Stratton victory under his belt, Skorman went on in 1999 to win a seat on the Colorado Springs City Council, where he served seven years, including two years as vice mayor. Skorman was well-liked on Council for his gentle and thoughtful leadership. Following 1999 floods that sent sewage floating downstream to Pueblo, it was, in part, his light touch that helped ease tensions with the southern city and set the stage for approval of the Southern Delivery System water pipeline deal. Skorman fought hard for parks and for the disadvantaged during his years in government, though given the conservative makeup of the rest of Council, he wasn't often successful.

In 2002, when the Council leaned moderate, Skorman was able to get health benefits approved for same-sex partners of city employees. A few months later, after an election and under a more conservative Council, it was promptly overturned. Nori Rost, the current pastor of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, was leading the Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church at the time. She remembers telling Council that her church and Skorman would pay the cost of the benefits if Council agreed to continue offering them.

"We just pointed out the hypocrisy of saying it was a financial issue when really it wasn't," she says. "And that did hurt him politically, I think, that he was such an ally."

In the years to come, Rost says, she often saw Skorman painted as "a liberal hippie queer sympathizer." But she never got the sense that Skorman regretted the stands he took.

"Richard Skorman is somebody whose integrity matters more than his political ambitions," she says.

click to enlarge Skorman and Seator are planning a 40th birthday bash for Poor Richard's, complete with free food. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Skorman and Seator are planning a 40th birthday bash for Poor Richard's, complete with free food.

Of course, sometimes you make more of an impact than you think.

In 2005, Skorman was readying himself for the next battle of the culture war. Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church were in town protesting outside Palmer High School because students there tried to get a gay-straight alliance club recognized. When the church showed up at the school, Skorman was on the loudspeaker issuing an impassioned speech, the gist of which was: Get out of our town.

The church responded by protesting Poor Richard's.

"Last year, Phelps' clan came to Colorado Springs several times to protest what they perceived to be gay-friendly actions occurring here," former Indy editor Cara DeGette wrote in 2006. "One of the visits occurred immediately after Skorman and his employees were devastated by the deaths of his restaurant managers, Jeanne Kerechanin and her partner Pamela Hartman, who were killed in a car crash."

Skorman told DeGette that Phelps had called him a supporter of "homofascist tyranny and fag sin," and "a whoremonger.'"

But this wasn't a repeat of the Amendment 2 days, or even the same-sex benefits battle. This time, members of Focus on the Family came to Poor Richard's to stand with Skorman (and beside tattooed young people and gays and lesbians), in opposition to Phelps. Skorman's conservative colleagues also showed up to support him, including then-Mayor Lionel Rivera. It was a moment of unity for Skorman, who had often found himself on the losing end of 8-1 votes on Council.

Rivera says now that he never really thought of Westboro as a church — more like an extended family that was eager to chastise anyone who didn't agree with them. He says he was upset when the church came to the Springs, and disgusted by its habit of protesting of military funerals.

"I think a lot of folks, not just around Colorado Springs but around our part of the country where they decided to protest, we frankly thought it was outrageous," he says.

Later that year, Skorman was again in the news. He was remodeling part of his complex when Hurricane Katrina, the costliest U.S. natural disaster, slammed New Orleans and the South. He thought his vacant space could be of some use.

Bob Holmes, then-executive director of the homeless services umbrella agency Homeward Pikes Peak, says he remembers Skorman calling him the day after the hurricane hit and asking if he'd partner on an effort to help refugees. Holmes agreed, and about two dozen agencies ended up helping with the effort — from Urban League of the Pikes Peak Region to El Pomar Foundation and Lutheran Family Services.

Headquarters was set up in the space that would become Rico's Café and Wine Bar, but was just a barren room stripped down to the studs at the time. Eventually, the effort moved elsewhere, but Holmes remembers that for the first few weeks, volunteers helped busloads of people start new lives out of the small space.

"The thing that I still remember is the total giving spirit of the people of Colorado Springs," Holmes says, noting people offered everything from cars to rooms in their finished basements.

Together, the group did outreach in the South and eventually helped more than 2,000 refugees with everything from finding jobs and apartments, to spare cash for medications. It's still one of Skorman's fondest memories.

In 2007, Skorman resigned from City Council to take a position as then-U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar's regional director.

Over the course of about a year and a half, he had a range of duties, from helping Fort Carson to create the vision that would become the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, to helping the city establish its ill-fated Stormwater Enterprise and its economic development deal with the United States Olympic Committee.

In 2011, Skorman made one more political foray. He ran against Steve Bach and a host of others to become Colorado Springs' first "strong mayor."

"There felt like there was a vacuum of leadership, and I was excited about all the things that could happen for the community," he remembers.

Skorman was able to put together a large contingent of volunteers and raise more than $500,000 for his campaign. He received the most votes in the first round of the election. But when he and Bach faced off in a runoff, Bach won handily.

The Independent's Ralph Routon called out the ugly campaign tactics that colored that race in a May 2011 editorial, noting that both candidates had tried to vilify one another. Skorman (notably, given his history) tried calling Bach a developer.

"Bach turned that grenade into a game-changer, flashing his real-estate broker credentials of the past 20-plus years, and making Skorman look reckless and desperate," Routon wrote. "Meanwhile, Jeff Crank dipped into his Americans for Prosperity war chest and pulled out $100,000 (if not more) to blanket the local TV airwaves with 'Skorman is liberal and will raise your taxes' venom."

Poor Richard's wasn't exactly sitting still through all of this.

In 1995, Skorman had added Little Richard's Toy Store, noticing that his once-youthful customers now had children. In 2005, noting that the same customers were rapidly becoming empty nesters, Seator led the charge to open Rico's. She also pared down the bookstore — which was suffering due to competition from Internet sellers — and added a gift shop. In 2007, Skorman bought the building from longtime owner First Christian Church, and he and Seator went on to give the structure a facelift, add solar panels and other "greening" improvements, plus a new patio and a new façade.

Seator had never really planned to help run Poor Richard's. She had her own private practice as a psychologist for many years and was hoping to pursue her interest in the arts. But she says once she got involved, her ideas took off. She started by adding greeting cards. They sold out so quickly that she was soon ordering more.

"It had a life of its own and it just kept growing and growing," she says.

Successful or not, the business can't go on like this forever. In 10 or 15 years, Skorman says he'll probably retire. He and Seator never had children, and with no apparent heir, they plan to sell Poor Richard's. Skorman, now 63, hopes to avoid his father's fate; he doesn't want his business converted into a chain like California Pizza Kitchen. But he also realizes that the Poor Richard's he created may not always be viable.

The times, as always, are changing.

"There's probably 30 or 40 coffee shops now that have books and games, and people can sit and feel comfortable," he says. "I feel grateful that we were able to be at the right place at the right time, and I hope there will always be a place for Poor Richard's in the community. But it's also really encouraging that there's a lot of other people out there doing great things."

Asked if the business has matched his original vision, Skorman is thoughtful.

"In a macro way, for sure," he says. "We always wanted it to be a comfortable place and very casual. We never had table service because we wanted people to be able to come to the counter and then be left alone."

Around 2011, a Colorado College student, David Amster-Olszewski, was hanging out at Poor Richard's when he met Skorman. Amster had a big dream: He wanted to make solar power more accessible to average people by creating community solar gardens that people could buy into.

Skorman, ever the environmentalist, was excited about the idea.

So he went to bat for the kid. He introduced him to then-City Councilor Jan Martin. He spoke on his behalf at meetings. He sponsored events for Amster's little company, SunShare. And he gave Amster his first office, a desk upstairs from Poor Richard's.

"Over the years we always had an extra desk or two, and I would always invite people to come up," Skorman says. "He was one. John Weiss was one. Annie Oatman-Gardner was another."

SunShare isn't so little anymore. It now owns solar projects across the Front Range and is expanding in Minnesota.

Eastburn says that Poor Richard's has hatched many businesses, groups and movements over the years.

"It's always been a place for coalitions to come together at the beginning, before they're well-known, and kind of get their start," she says.

It may seem amazing that a little place like this could touch so many lives. The walls here don't appear to house any special magic. But Skorman — the guy in the green apron, busily clearing your table — has always seemed to be able to hold on to what matters (friends, values) while letting go of the things that tend to trip up others (like ego). If there's a magic here, it's built on ambition, sure, but also humility, kindness and generosity.

In this way, Skorman has taken a sprawling anonymous city — a place where a bowling ball rolling down Tejon Street at midday wasn't likely to hit anyone — and created something more familiar.

A third place. A second home. A neighborhood.

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