A dark and scary night

Downtown Steamboat Springs merchants play host for the Halloween Stroll

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— When Jerry Kozatch was a child, he wouldn't eat just any Halloween treat. "I had a real bias against bad candy," he recalled.

The Denver native said he would separate out all the bad stuff and give it to his sister, only keeping the quality sweets for himself.

That's why Kozatch, owner of the downtown Steamboat Springs business Ambiente, doesn't mess around when it's time to buy candy for the downtown Halloween Stroll.

In a room in the back of his store last week, Kozatch pulled out bed pillow-sized bags of assorted chocolate candy bars and held them up.

"It's $150 worth of candy," he said with a wide smile.

It's just one element of possibly the most unique event in Steamboat, the Halloween Stroll. When it comes to Halloween, the stroll is what it's all about for most people.

"It's like walking into a Norman Rockwell painting," Kozatch said.

Each Halloween, U.S. 40 is closed off through downtown and the entire area is taken over by maybe 1,000 people dressed in costumes, while children go from business to business trick-or-treating.

But they don't always get candy.

About five years ago, Johnny B. Good's diner ran out of candy. The owners, Mike and Kathy Diemer, began giving away french fries instead. The next year, children were waiting for the hot treat.

"Most of the kids came in and were (saying), 'When are you going to be out of candy?" Kathy Diemer said.

So the diner now gives away just french fries, going through 10 cases last year.

"With these cold Halloweens, it's a zoo out there," Mike Diemer said.

Indeed, no matter what the weather is like, the streets are usually packed with people.

"I think it's so unique, because the entire family participates," Leslie Ryan said.

Ryan and her husband, Richard, own Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. Their first experience of living in Steamboat Springs was on Halloween in 1988. After buying the bookstore in late October of that year, which was on Lincoln Avenue at the time, the previous owners told them to come downtown to see what happens on Halloween.

"We were just amazed to see the entire town turnout," Ryan said.

Ty Lockhart of F.M. Light & Sons said the event started sometime in the '80s, when there was a scare about the safety of children trick-or-treating. Many of the downtown business decided to organize and provide a safe option for the children to come downtown to do their trick-or-treating.

"Now, it's just more of a tradition," he said.

The event is sponsored by the Downtown Business Association, but there is no sign-up or official organizing of the stroll. Business owners who want to participate just buy candy and open their doors.

Gary Saxe, who owns the Tap House, brings his young children to the event every year.

"The kids get excited about Halloween, and they get super excited about that. It's all they know," he said.

As it turned out, the Halloween Stroll fills a need for many people in Routt County. Unless you live in a downtown setting, there isn't much of an option to go trick-or-treating. Many of the neighborhoods just outside of Steamboat Springs don't even have sidewalks, making it difficult for the children to go from house to house.

Plus, many families don't live in a traditional neighborhood. This is the case for the Petix family, who live up Lynx Pass and have two young children.

"It's like the biggest block party that Steamboat has," Michelle Petix said.

Along with an opportunity for their children to trick or treat, it's also an opportunity to see old friends.

"It's more just a chance to see everyone after a busy summer and before the winter hibernation," she said.

It's also a time when the downtown businesses are pretty generous. Kozatch said it is good public relations for the businesses, but for the most part, it's just a chance to give stuff away.

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