Big dreams for Hayden

Business owners looking at ways to revitalize

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— Hayden is the kind of place where ranchers come into town just long enough to gas up their trucks at the local co-op; where the biggest social scene takes place around 7 a.m. when coal miners and power plant workers line up for coffee and a donut at the Kum & Go -- the same Kum & Go where teen-agers stand around the parking lot after dark talking about how there is nothing to do.

The streets are quiet at night, except for the occasional truck crossing town on U.S. Highway 40. Nothing happens here, some people say.

But they would be wrong.

"Hayden changes slowly," business owner Lana McFadden said. It's like a flower opening, she said. One has to watch very closely over time and have a memory of what it looked like before it bloomed.

When Hayden Police Chief Jody Lenahan moved to town 28 years ago, the side streets were dirt, but they were lined with small-town businesses. The library was in a different location on Jefferson Avenue and the Hayden Town Hall was located in the small house that is now Bear River Realty. The corner now home to the Food Mill restaurant was a drugstore. F.M. Light & Sons had a store in town and the Hayden Mercantile, the post office and the Broken Drum Restaurant were all located downtown.

The liquor store was on the corner of Jefferson and Walnut, just as it is today.

"There was a double-barrel shotgun behind the counter," Lenahan said.

When McFadden moved to town five years ago, Walnut Street -- now the busiest street in town off the highway -- was still a dirt road, she said. By then, however, most of the businesses from Lenahan's early days had closed. Storefronts were empty or rented out for storage.

It was then that the town, boosted by a $158,000 Energy Impact Grant and $25,000 in matching funds from local business owners, began work on a Downtown Improvement Project that gave the town's business district, Jefferson Avenue and South Walnut Street, a $334,000 facelift.

Part of the project was to tear apart and replace the stretch of U.S. 40 known as Jefferson Avenue within town limits.

A crown had built up in the center of Jefferson Avenue from years of overlay.

"If you were sitting in a restaurant and looking out the window at the highway, the crown would be level with the top of your table," Lenahan said.

"We called it the Hayden dam. If the river ever flooded, it would never be able to cross the highway."

Every time it rained, basements of businesses along the highway flooded.

In addition to repairing Jefferson Avenue, the Downtown Improvement Project included installation of new water and sewer lines, new curbs and gutters to replace the gravel shoulders that were in place at the time, new sidewalks and lamppost-style street lighting.

Planting trees along the road was not part of the original plan, but the Town Board and staff organized an "Adopt a Tree" program.

Over the past few years, business owners have been working on the façades of their buildings.

Walnut Street is now a paved road and many of the empty buildings have been converted from warehouse storage units to a line of viable businesses -- a liquor and fishing supply store, a coin-operated laundry, an artist's studio, a guitar store, a cabinetry store, a deli and a consignment store.

A few of the businesses are only open a couple of days a week; commerce in Hayden isn't strong enough for the stores to support their owners, so owners work second jobs elsewhere to make ends meet.

Despite the money pumped into improving the business district, there are still several vacant buildings downtown and no "For Rent" signs indicating they are available.

Working to remedy that, and to further vitalize Hayden's economy, are the town government and chamber of commerce. While such public-private partnerships are typically at the heart of spearheading economic development, they happen on a much smaller scale in a town the size of Hayden, population 1,634.

Hayden has a one-man planning department -- and that person, Rob Straebel, also serves as town manager.

The town's chamber of commerce is a volunteer-run entity that went inactive for a short time last year because of lack of involvement.

The chamber reopened in November, now run by a new board made up of Walnut Street business owners. They have big dreams for the future of Hayden, but a lot of work to do before they can begin.

The chamber is now headed by Joe Schminkey, owner of M&J Storage. McFadden, owner of Porcupine Designs, is the new vice president. Mary Schminkey is the secretary and Lorraine Johnson, owner of Mount Harris Liquors, is the chamber's treasurer.

The group is responsible for marketing the town and promoting local business.

"We need to find a way to do that," McFadden said.

McFadden, a graphic artist, is working on a logo for the chamber and the development of a directory of local businesses.

"We have a core group now and we are still working on our list of goals," she said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us. I hope people will be patient."

The chamber hopes to promote existing businesses while attracting new business to the town, but it first needs to establish itself, starting with a phone number and an address, which it hopes to arrange in the coming weeks. The group wrote its mission statement at its Jan. 24 meeting -- the first step in a long journey.

A map of Hayden, dated 1914, hanging in the foyer of Town Hall, is a reminder of just how much Hayden's business district has shrunk since the turn of the century, and just how long the journey back will be.

On the old map, the town looks like a bustling hub of activity. Downtown has a bank, drugstore, livery stables, a bowling alley, pool hall, barbershop, jewelry store, general store and a butcher. The town also supported two motels.

"People couldn't travel like they do today," Town Clerk Lisa Johnston said.

Life is far different today, as most residents travel to Steamboat Springs or Craig to shop and work.

"A strong determinant of a town's economic viability is the ratio of jobs to homes," Straebel said. And while there is no official figure of how many Hayden residents must commute to jobs elsewhere, the long line of cars on U.S. 40 heading to Steamboat in the morning and back to Hayden at night is telling.

However, officials are taking steps, and taking advantage of new technology, to bring more businesses to town.

In an attempt to create local jobs, the town of Hayden partnered with the Western Colorado Marketing Alliance, a group that regionally recruits new businesses.

In recent months, Hayden has also taken steps to increase telecommunication capacity. The town will soon see the installation of fiber-optic wireless DSL for high-speed Internet service and residents will have a choice between two Internet service providers.

"We hope it will promote economic development," Straebel said.

Straebel hopes the expanded bandwidth will make it possible for communication and light industrial business to move to Hayden, he said.

"Developing the local airport is also central to attracting bigger business," Straebel said.

"Hayden has a stigma that it will always be a bedroom community," McFadden said. "It's an attitude that needs to go away.

"I know many people who would prefer to live and work here," she said, "but we have to provide jobs for those people, and who is going to do that?

"When the youth say, 'What opportunities are here for me?' you have to listen to that if you want them to stay."

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