Shari Ross is calling it a day. She plans to close her Tough Luck Cowboy store, 2050 Broadway, at the end of the month.
Ross started the business in 2005 selling a variety of cowboy gear including leather boots, apparel, hats, shotgun chaps, chinks, belts, buckles, books and memorabilia and collectibles reflecting the cowboy theme. It's a slice of Americana, Ross said. "I wanted to keep alive the Western feel of Boulder. I rode horses on Pearl Street when there was nothing east of 28th Street... just open space."
Ross said she expected her rent to go up once her current lease expired, making her rethink her priorities. Though business was good last year, it's getting difficult to sustain it on an even keel, said Ross, who plans to move to New Mexico after selling her house in Boulder.
"It'll break my heart," she said of her potential move. But it's an affordability issue for her. She's offering discounts from 20 percent to 50 percent to clear out the merchandise in her 1,270-square-feet store.
The closing of Tough Luck Cowboy follows the recent closure of Ted's Montana Grill and the Cheesecake Factory. But it's not all the same, said Mike Berne, president of MJB Consulting, a retail consulting firm based in Berkeley, Calif., and New York, N.Y. Last year, his company did a Downtown Boulder Retail Vibrancy Study for the City of Boulder and the Downtown Boulder Partnership.
It's possible the chain restaurants didn't get enough local support due to "an antipathy towards larger chains," he said.
For the demise of small local retail stores, one can't always blame online sales, he said. "The effects of e-commerce are complicated and often somewhat overstated, though even a small impact can prove decisive for a small, independently-owned business."
"Rent is one part of occupancy costs," Berne said. "One cannot accurately say that the rents are 'too high' — obviously they are not 'too high' for all kinds of tenants," Berne said.
A commercial space lease holder also pays property taxes, property insurance and common area maintenance on top of the base rent. In Boulder, property tax increases are typically passed on to the tenant.
The base rent in the area traditionally defined as downtown Boulder ranges from the high $20s per square foot to $60 per square foot annually, Boulder commercial real estate broker Todd Walsh said. In some cases, the monthly rent, including the cost of taxes, maintenance and insurance, in some parts of downtown can be under $4,000 a month, he said.
Property taxes, which have increased from 20 percent to 30 percent in the last two years, and the rising costs of maintenance and insurance, have added to the increase in rents, Walsh said. But he added, the one-year rent growth is modest, at little under 1 percent, according to data provided by commercial real estate data company CoStar. In the last 10 years, rents have risen by as much as 4.5 percent, he said.
"Vacancy is up (over the last 5 years) right now. It's 6.57 percent, (according to commercial real estate data company CoStar) but still in line with normal conditions," Walsh said. The 10 year average is 7.54 percent, he said.
He said the forthcoming closure of Tough Luck Cowboy is an example of difficulty local businesses might face because of increasing occupancy costs. "It's a very competitive business environment. If you don't fine-tune your business model somebody else will come knocking at the door to take over the lease."
Ross said she'll miss her customers, because some of them are like family. "Retail is about building relationships." But she said she'll cherish the wonderful memories she's made running her business. She recalled famed musician, singer and songwriter Graham Nash dropping in at Tough Luck Cowboy and making chitchat with her.
"I didn't know who he was. But he probably wanted me to know who he was," she said. "When I said the Beatles came to Red Rocks in 1963, he corrected me, 'The Beatles came in 1964.'"
Nash bought an expensive shirt and came to say "hi" the next day, Ross remembered. "He looked very authentic."
Over the years, she said, she's had lots of international visitors buying things at her store. Many Japanese girls bought vintage boots, she said.
One popularly selling item during her 14 years in business has been a book, "Cowboy Ethics" by James P. Owen, she said. People love the code of the West, she said, adding international tourists always wanted to look at the book. One thing she remembers from the book: "When you make a promise, keep it."
Ross said she thinks Boulder residents would miss her unique store. "People like to come in and smell the leather."
Berne suggested in the March 2018 retail vibrancy study exploring "tenant-improvement allowances" or "T.I." to help small businesses. At many places across the country, civic agencies have created funds to supplement such support in downtown districts, ideally in the form of forgivable loans so that tenants have some "skin in the game," Berne said.
Doyle Albee, a member of the Boulder Chamber board, said, the community needs to preserve unique Boulder businesses that help make the community what it is. "We want them to survive. If we are not careful, we'd end up being homogenous, no longer unique, or with a lot of empty store fronts," he said.
Albee is part of the chamber's strategic four-year plan Boulder Together to address workforce development, affordable housing and traffic issues in the city. It's got to be a community effort, he said.
"No one can do it by themselves."
Pratik Joshi: 303-684-5310, email@example.com