Locals 2012: Lil Gonzalez
June 29, 2012
When Lil Gonzalez, 68, moved to the Yampa Valley from Los Angeles with her husband, Ben, and three sons in 1974, she didn't know that she'd leave her mark on far more than the apparel at the T-shirt store they came to manage. From employees to neighbors, everyone she interacts with sings nothing but praise.
"She's the best boss in the world," says longtime employee Karen Dooley. "She's fair, honest and one of hardest workers you'll ever find. She'll never give you a job she wouldn't do herself."
Managing The Shirt Shop while raising her three sons — Armando, 46, a TSA employee at the airport; Tony, 39, a lieutenant fireman in Denver; and Michael, 43, captain of Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue — she saw her business in Ski Time Square expand into operations in Breckenridge, Aspen and downtown Steamboat. Later, Shirt Off My Back purchased the lease and brought her on board as manager.
It's an apt name for her business as she tirelessly gives the shirt off her back to friends and family. "I become friends with my employees and show them that I care about them," she says.
"They come to me whenever they have issues, and I listen to them." Case in point: When an employee went through a relationship breakup, Lil bought her a ticket to visit her aunt in Los Angeles.
Whether the good-natured style of small-town living has rubbed off on her or her on it, that's what she loves about living in Steamboat. "Initially, it was a major adjustment moving here," she says. "Back then, there wasn't anything here … just a couple of traffic lights downtown. We were living at the beach, and all of a sudden I had to get all three boys winterized. But then that first summer came, and it was so beautiful here there was no turning back."
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And she couldn't be happier leaving the hustle and bustle behind. "Even though some people think it's getting pretty busy here, I come from L.A., so I still think it's great," says Lil, who now has three grandchildren and takes care of her mother at home, as well. "I just love the beauty, intimacy and closeness of the community and the support it gives whenever it's needed."