Old Colorado Springs: Small Town Charm
Old Colorado City is the name given to the historic portion of Colorado Springs. Today the brick buildings that line Colorado Avenue house a wine tasting room, craft shops, and specialty food stores. Forget the mall and come browse a collection of indie stores in a historic setting.
Old Colorado City was the first permanent town in the Pikes Peak area of Colorado. It grew from a small settlement called El Dorado into a town of railway employees and glassworkers. A gold rush in nearby Cripple Creek gave credence to its original name. In 1917, Old Colorado City merged with Colorado Springs.
From the street, this craft mecca appears diminutive, but when you step inside, it’s a different story. In fact, this store has a lot in common with an old guy spinning a yarn – just when you think he’s reached the end, you discover that there’s more to come.
In the Needleworks section, ladies perch in armchairs, clacking their knitting needles and chatting. It’s like wandering into your grandmother’s living room when she’s entertaining. This room bleeds into a den of embroidery and cross-stitch, while the back opens up into a rubber stamp store and factory. Kathryn Read is responsible for the designs, which are unique to the store. The Holly Berry House offers classes ranging from knitting to rug hooking (very different from the kind of rug hooking that went on during the Gold Rush).
I’m a sucker for a good bead store. The colorful strings adorning the walls tend to persuade me that I’m capable of creating something worthy of Bulgari. By the time I’m scooping my hand through boxes of loose beads, I’ve convinced myself I’m the thrifty answer to Neil Lane. But that’s okay because White Rabbit Beads is presumably named after the Alice and Wonderland character, the docent of delusions.
Farmer and Art Market
Each Saturday morning from June through October Bancroft Park, a small patch of green smack in the middle of Old Colorado City, is hidden beneath tents and stalls. There’s the expected fruit and vegetables but also less typical fare like arrays of pasta as colorful as any I’ve seen in Florence. Our favorite discovery was the Hawaiian wafers, made by High-T Snacks. The vendor is friendly and generous with samples. Definitely try the original coconut and roasted sesame seed flavors. The wafers are low-cal (only 35 calories for two) and while that’s great, it would be greater still if they weren’t so addictive that you consumed twelve in one sitting.
This shop is so narrow that it’s best explored sideways! Honey Cottage sells beeswax candles, honey-based lotions, dripping honeycombs and, of course, honey. Those wanting to channel Winnie the Pooh can purchase an actual honeypot.
In the U.K. the word “willy” most often refers to a penis, so it seems a strange name for a British store. I’m going to assume that, in this case, Willy is a person as there is neither hide nor hair of a willy inside. Instead the shelves were stocked with British chocolate bars and biscuits. I was thrilled to unearth Garibaldi biscuits, not because they are inherently tasty (imho raisins are cookie saboteurs) but because kids in England call these “squashed fly biscuits.” For a brief moment I was transported back to childhood when the sight of smooshed raisins gave rise to such evocative nicknames.
The Sweet Elephant is part gift shop, part wine tasting room – the sign above the door reads “Vinery.” More than fifteen different Colorado wines are sold here and tastings are free. The Mayday Red is slightly sweet and is a good choice for fall or the holiday season. On the other hand, the Pinot Grigio has a light, summer vibe, with a wonderful, apricot nose. If you lean toward dry, crisp whites, sip the viognier. Pets are allowed inside although, much to Bambi’s disappointment, no one invited her to imbibe.
The coffee bar at the Sweet Elephant does have some snacks but, for an actual meal, amble over to La Baguette. This French café serves breakfast and lunch. The menu is simple – soup, salads, sandwiches and egg dishes – but that just showcases the crusty, freshly-baked bread. The bakery display case contains croissants and artisan breads besides the traditional baguette. As this is a French café, wine is available. I recommend the ham and Swiss baguette, which arrives with half an apple on the side. La Baguette is opposite Bancroft Park, so it’s easy to get your food to go and have an impromptu picnic.
Four Legged Friends
The Republic of Paws is your typical pet boutique. For those traveling with Fido, it’s a welcoming place to stock up on gourmet treats, and pet clothing and carriers. Plus they sell doggles, which are always entertaining.
Although Old Colorado City is a small town within a large city, it retains a neighborhood vibe and is a fun place to explore on a Saturday morning.