Feb 022004
Authors: Colleen Buhrer

Some businesses arrive in Old Town Fort Collins only to depart

in less than five years while others last forever. According to

owners of businesses that have survived, the thing it takes to

survive is a good product consumers cannot find anywhere else.

Each business in Old Town has its own business, its own history

and its own products. The products vary greatly from shop to


Children’s Mercantile Company, 111 N. College Ave., has been in

business for 26 years. Children’s Mercantile has a lot of unique

brands and customers, said Shelly Dragan, owner of Children’s

Mercantile for two years.

“We have a niche in Old Town,” she said. She adds there are “a

lot of unique things downtown.”

Children’s Mercantile has moved four times, the last being seven

years ago to its location on College. Dragan said the last move was

because the owner bought the building and because the shop was

larger. The current location is almost three times larger than the

original location.

She also said the new location had brought in a lot more

business, since more people driving down College stop in.

CooperSmith’s Pub and Brewing, 5 Old Town Square, has also been

serving customers for 14 years.

According to Scott Smith, owner of CooperSmith’s,

“(CooperSmith’s) started with the right place, the right time, the

right people and a little bit of luck.”

Smith said a business will survive if its concept is well

thought out. He added that people are drawn to Old Town because of

the independence of the businesses and the mix of goods.

“We’re all fiercely independent,” he said. “(And) we like the

eclectic mix.”

Word-of-mouth is also a big selling point for businesses in Old


Dragan said her employees often recommend other stores, while

listening to what their customers say are good places to shop.

“We make a point of recommending other places downtown,” Dragan


Smith also agrees that word-of-mouth is very important to

business in Old Town.

“This is still a very small town,” he said. “After you have

established yourself it is still important to stay in people’s

minds.” He said a good way to do this is by giving back to the


Dragan also noted that a lot of companies around Children’s

Mercantile have not faired as well. “Quite a few have gone in and

out,” she said.

The poor economy has driven out a lot of businesses, but this

year the economy is getting better. “A trend in the toy business is

in five-year increments,” Dragan said.

Stores in Old Town are hit hard in down economies because that

is when consumers turn to discount stores.

“People are in the mode that they don’t want to buy anything

that isn’t on sale,” Dragan said. This hurts small businesses, like

the ones in Old Town, because they can’t have the sales.

Smith said restaurants tend to be successful in Old Town. Before

the economy went down anybody who tried could open a restaurant, he

said. But the restaurant business has not been without its


Smith said CooperSmith’s saw a real tough time in 1995 and 1996

when many chain restaurants opened on Harmony Road. When this

happened the restaurant “focused on what (it) could control,” and

not what it couldn’t, he said. Things Coopersmith’s could control

included its own product and customer relations and that is what it

focused on.

Smith sees the changing economy and clearing out of businesses

as a natural progression. “It’s kind of a natural culling, if you

will,” he said.

Smith also said that in his time in Old Town he has noticed one

trend he doesn’t understand. “Bridal shops for some reason seem to

come and go,” he said. “I don’t know why.”

According to an article in the July 26, 1993 edition of Fortune,

there are two keys to success for nationwide businesses: selling

insurance and unsentimentality. According to the article,

“Corporate Methuselahs” by Jennifer Reese, of the 10 oldest United

States companies, “identified by Dun & Bradstreet’s business

information service-excluding farms, cemeteries and church

enterprises-three sell insurance and always have.”

The article goes on to say, “Another predictor of longevity:

unsentimentality. The companies that have lasted know how to shed

musty, unprofitable businesses and find new ways to turn a


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