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Cortez Store Closure Reflects Shifting Downtown Economy

Austin Cope

A long line of people stretched down the sidewalk outside the storefront of Susie’s Gifts on Main in downtown Cortez last week. It consisted mainly of women over the age of 40, waiting in the morning sun to find deals on greeting cards, clothing, and home decor. The store was beginning its closeout sale after 23 years in downtown Cortez.

Inside the store, I talked to co-owner Joe Keck. He said that he and his wife Susan moved to Cortez in the early 1980s, and started their business in 1993 as a Hallmark and catalog store. Over the years, they sold the catalog portion, switched locations, and dropped the Hallmark affiliation.

The store became fully independent two years ago. But Keck said that after all these years, they both are now ready to retire.

“Susan’s got some artwork she does, and she wants to do more of that, and we’re planning on traveling,” he said.

Over the years, their store has witnessed a lot of changes in downtown Cortez. Keck said that downtown Cortez was much different 30 years ago, when he came to do a small business study.

“In our downtown study in 1980 we were talking about, ‘wow, Cortez needs more restaurants downtown, and more eating and drinking places,’” he said. “So a lot of that has happened, but it’s kind of happened at the expense of retail.”

He said that Cortez’s pattern matched a trend in many small downtowns in the U.S.

“They’ve gone from having a pretty strong retail base to now more service bases,” he said. “You [now] have people with Pilates studios, you have dance places, you have a lot of restaurants.”

He said that factors in this transition included large stores such as Walmart, but also the 2008 economic downturn and a significant switch to online retailing.  Their store has witnessed all these changes firsthand.

“You’d like to be able to change it, and have a better appreciation for shopping local with independent retailers, but the world has changed so much,” he said.

People these days tend to be more price conscious, he said, and many in Cortez are already on fixed incomes.

“It’s very challenging, and if we weren’t ready to retire and move on to do some travel and other things, we’d like to change it around and maybe do Internet sales and change the product service mix,” he said. “But after 23 years we’re just ready to move on.”

After Joe Keck and I finished our conversation, I passed his wife and co-owner Susan. She was busy wrapping gifts for a long line of people, and didn’t have time to talk. But Joe told me that she was the one who has kept the business going.

“She’s worked so hard, and she’s always created such a nice space,” he said. “That’s kind of one of her specialties.”

Susie’s Gifts on Main will stay open for a few more weeks before it finishes off its time in downtown Cortez.

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