Boggs Hardware to close up shop

Lincoln Avenue fixture is Steamboat's second-oldest open store

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— Boggs Hardware will close its doors after more than 60 years in business.

A Lincoln Avenue fixture, the hardware store opened in 1939 and was one of the few stores left on Steamboat Springs' main street with ties to the town's old-time ranching era.

Doug Boggs, former owner of the store, said the staple at 730 Lincoln Ave., is the second-oldest open store in Steamboat, surpassed only by F.M. Light & Sons, which opened in 1905.

On Friday, the store's owners placed an advertisement in Steamboat Today announcing its upcoming closure. That day, the atmosphere at Boggs Hardware was that of a funeral parlor, as customers and neighbors stopped by to give their condolences.

Catherine McCullough, who owns the store with her husband, Bob, said she did not want to point fingers to why the store is closing but said they faced tough times last year and could no longer pay the rent.

"It wasn't any one thing," she said with tears in her eyes. "When you run into a bad year and you are already struggling, there is no way you can survive it. We put so much into it, we couldn't put anymore in it."

The store is liquidating its entire stock and McCullough said they expect to close in eight weeks.

Last year was the worst they faced from a business standpoint, McCullough said. They knew by Thanksgiving it was time to close but financially had to stay open through the holidays.

Ironically, McCullough said, the store's hardest economic year also brought it the most accolades. In 2002, the store was named best hardware store in the Steamboat Pilot & Today's "Best of the 'Boat" section. Boggs Hardware was also written up in the Denver-based 5280 Magazine.

"We knew we had a good thing," she said. "We tried so hard to keep it."

Boggs Hardware opened in 1939 when Herald Boggs came over Rabbit Ears Pass and decided he preferred the Rocky Mountains to the Eastern Plains, his son Doug Boggs said.

Herald Boggs decided to sell his father and grandfather's farm in Burlington and buy the Gamble Store in Steamboat. It was the first retail store ever owned by Herald Boggs, who dropped out of the University of Colorado during the Great Depression.

At first, Herald Boggs focused mainly on farm implements and had just a small hardware store on the side. Until 1948, it was located where Lyon's Corner Drug is today.

Doug Boggs remembers his father bringing the first backhoe into town and the first hay baler. He recalls the farmers and ranchers that stopped in every morning for coffee and to swap stories.

In the 1960s, when the ski area opened, Boggs made the shift from focusing on farming supplies to hardware. Doug Boggs and his brother took over the store in the 1970s. He said it almost brings him to tears when he thinks about it closing.

"I spent my whole life there, so did my father and brother," he said. "It is not easy."

The store's current owner, Bob McCullough, also has a long history with Boggs Hardware. He came to Steamboat in 1971 and started working for the store soon after. Over the years, Bob McCullough earned stock in the company. In 1995, the McCulloughs became the sole owners when Boggs, who has multiple sclerosis, decided to sell the store and move to Arizona.

Eventually, Catherine McCullough started her own home-decorating line. The store now carries decorating items like rustic snowshoes and skis, cookie cutters and Christmas ornaments, but also remains a fully functioning hardware store with hammers, light bulbs and paint.

"We put in a home-decorating line and it still wasn't enough to hold on in harder times. We just couldn't pay the rent," McCullough said.

The store faced local competition from national chains like Wal-Mart and True Value, as well as local lumber, plumbing and heating-supply companies.

"Steamboat changes. Everywhere you go things change. You can't avoid change. You just can't. I guess this was bound to happen sometime," McCullough said. "There were so many hardware stores, we had to close our doors."

Doug Boggs said the writing has been on the walls since the late 1980s, when the "bigger boys" moved into town and the small businesses couldn't compete. But he had hoped the McCulloughs could keep the store going.

"I literally sold out at book value so that they could make it," Boggs said. "I could have gone out in those years for a lot more money. But I gave them a good deal, hoping they could do it."

Boggs still owns the building at 730 Lincoln Ave. Property taxes have gone through the roof in the past 10 years, he said. Right now, he said, the store's space is being leased for 40 percent to 50 percent of what the market rate is, and after Sept. 11, he automatically lowered the rent.

"Realtors have come to me for the last 10 years and said I could double, triple the rents. But I didn't do that," Boggs said.

Boggs said the McCulloughs have been like family to him and he knows they have put their hearts and souls in the business for the past seven years. He also knows the loss of a hardware store that was once the only place in town to cash tourists' checks is much more than the loss of a business.

"You are going to lose the flavor of Steamboat," Boggs said.

A Steamboat resident since 1974, Catherine McCullough said the family is moving to the Front Range, where she plans to continue her home-decorating line.

"The hardest thing for us is how it is affecting our friends and we have customers here that we just love dearly," she said. "It is going to be a jolt for them. Some of the people have been coming here for years."

The store will close from Sunday to Wednesday to prepare for the liquidation sale, which begins Thursday with 20 to 50 percent off store items.

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