Allen family celebrating 100 years in Steamboat
November 22, 2009
Steamboat Springs — Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from its original version, to reflect that while the Allen family has lived in the Yampa Valley for 100 years, they have only conducted business here for about 85 years. The family homesteaded for about 15 years after arriving in 1909.
Customers who walk into Allen's Clothing on Lincoln Avenue might not realize that people walked on the same wooden flooring during the Great Depression and World War II.
"This is like an 80-year-old floor," Tod Allen said, standing in the store last week. "There's been a lot of come-and-go over the years."
And a lot of Allens.
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Tod Allen has been co-owner of the store for about 25 years with his wife, Robin Allen. They took over for Tod Allen's father, Bill Allen, who learned how to run a business from Tod Allen's grandfather, George Allen. It's a retail legacy that turns 100 this year — Tod Allen's great-grandparents came to Steamboat Springs in 1909 from Nebraska, and the family has done business in downtown Steamboat Springs ever since.
George Allen ran Furlong General Store for about 20 years, Tod Allen said, and sold Buicks at a downtown car dealership for about five years.
Allen's Clothing opened in 1949, and the store is celebrating 60 years in business this week, with a sale that runs through Thanksgiving. Every item in the store is at least 25 percent off, Tod Allen said, as a way to thank locals for decades of support.
"The reason we've been here for 60 years is because the people of Steamboat have supported us," he said. "We buy with locals in mind, not with tourists in mind."
Allen's focuses on sportswear but also offers formal suits and a variety of apparel for men and women. The building has gone through as many style changes as the store's racks. The location used to house a silent-movie theater — there's still a raised stage area in the back — and has been home to Allen's Clothing for about 53 years, Tod Allen said. For its first seven years, Allen's Clothing was across Lincoln Avenue, where Urban Laundry is today.
Tod Allen grew up between the store's aisles and clothing
piles and began working at Allen's in 1969 as a high school student. The store had linoleum flooring when he was a child, before his family put in carpeting that lasted for decades. Tod Allen said it was quite a surprise when he finally decided to tear up all the layers underfoot.
"I knew there was a wood floor," he said. "I had no idea there was a beautiful wood floor."
Longtime Steamboat resident John Marshall popped into the store last week and said he's been shopping at Allen's for decades.
"I played softball with Tod in 1972, and I've been coming in here ever since," Marshall said. "I'll be looking for a pair of pants, and he'll say, 'That goes with the shirts you bought last Christmas.' That's important for a guy."
Allen's spent its first 40 years or so as a menswear store. Tod Allen said he and Robin decided to add women's clothing about 20 years ago — but their core market hasn't changed.
"We want that average, basic, regular, live here, work here Steamboat guy," Tod Allen said.
'I think it was fate'
That description fits Tod Allen to a T.
Longtime Allen's employee Terry Sherrill, who has lived in Steamboat for nearly 40 years, said the Allens are generous community members who contribute to just about any cause that walks in the door and who extend that same generosity to customers.
"They'll do anything they can to help out a customer," Sherrill said.
That includes the locals discount that Allen's has offered for years: 15 percent off any regular-price item, any time, for a Routt County resident. Sherrill said the Allens don't ask customers to provide a pay stub or proof of residency to receive the discount.
"They just trust people," Sherrill said.
That could be because they know most of the folks who walk in the door, often from shared local interests.
"When he's not here, he's fishing," Sherrill said about Tod Allen, who also spends his fall Friday nights on "the chain gang" at Steamboat Springs High School football games.
Tod Allen said he's had that volunteer job — helping move the first-down markers along the sidelines — for about five years, and doesn't plan to give it up.
"You get a bird's-eye view of the game," he said, grinning. "It's so much fun."
But before business, fishing and football, Tod Allen said, comes family.
He's known Robin since they were toddlers. Robin lived in Steamboat for about three years when she was very young, and her father, Crosby Perry-Smith, was a coach with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Her family knew the Allens, and they would get together for holidays, visits and skiing. That friendship continued throughout the years after Robin's family moved away, and Robin and Tod started dating when they attended college together at Colorado State University.
"I think it was fate," Robin said.
They were married in August 1978 and have three children: Anya, Thomas and Kristopher.
Tod Allen said it's up in the air whether family ownership of the store will continue in the decades to come.
"Kristopher's showing an interest," he said. "I don't know if there's another generation in it or not."
But whoever the store's next owner is, Tod and Robin Allen have no intention of letting go of the reins anytime soon.
"Nope. Never thought of selling the business, ever," Tod Allen said. "We just like living in Steamboat."
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