Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs' only commercial indoor climbing gym is closing its doors to make way for a lumber-yard expansion.
David Fix, the owner of Vertical Grip, confirmed this week he intends to close his gym at the end of July.
Vertical Grip's exit will allow Alpine Lumber, the only lumber yard on the city's south side, to seek the expansion it has wanted for more than five years. Alpine has contracted to purchase the buildings occupied by Vertical Grip Climbing gym and Ski Country Kitchens from owner Robert Noel Sr.
Ski Country Kitchens, owned by the Noel family, will remain as a tenant of the lumber company. However, Alpine has purchased the climbing gym's lease from Fix and will use the space to relocate and expand its offices and retail operation.
While Fix has some misgivings about ending the business he started in 1995, he's satisfied that he's made a sound business decision.
"Alpine has been making me offers for two years," Fix said. "I said 'no, no, no,' but there's a time in your business when you have to make a decision. My lease didn't run out and it's not about how the business was doing. It's strictly a business proposition. I feel fortunate to be in the position I'm in."
Fix had seven years remaining on a strong lease and has profited from it. He isn't going out of business in Steamboat -- he'll use some of the proceeds from the transaction to put new energy into Rocky Mountain Ventures, his second business. It guides clients on hiking, snowshoeing, rock- and ice-climbing adventures, and soon big-game hunting trips.
Alpine Lumber manager Skip Dierdorff said the transaction will allow his company to expand its yard, display more products and go forward with plans to finally pave the yard and parking areas.
"We've been challenged, to say the least, with our facilities," Dierdorff said. "Our yard isn't paved, and we've had to deal with mud, dust and snow. We have a lot of very loyal customers who have put up with our shortcomings. Frankly, it's difficult for some people to buy from us."
Despite the challenges of Alpine's site, it enjoys a competitive advantage among contractors who are building on the ski mountain and further south. When a home builder needs a few pieces of dimensional lumber or a couple of boxes of nails to keep a framing crew going, it's convenient to run to Alpine, rather than drive through downtown Steamboat.
Dierdorff said Alpine's current facility isn't a very inviting place to bring customers who want to see a range of options in building materials. That will change if the city approves Alpine's remodeling plans, he said.
Alpine is the largest independently owned chain of lumberyards in the state, Dierdorff said. Alpine has four yards on the Western Slope and four on the Front Range. The company also has two shops that build roof trusses, one in Montrose and one on the Front Range. Alpine also has a millworks that builds doors, for example. The company also has a "reload facility" that allows it to take lumber off of rail cars and place it on trucks for distribution to yards. In addition to serving Alpine's eight yards, the facility distributes lumber to yards owned by other companies.
Alpine purchased the Steamboat business from Rick Kollenkark a little more than a decade ago, Dierdorff said. Dierdorff retired from his position at Alpine last September.
Fix said he will continue to own the dismantled climbing walls after he closes and would encourage someone else to establish a new indoor climbing gym. But after looking around, he wasn't inclined to relocate Vertical Grip. Commercial rents have gone up since he signed his lease.
"Things have changed in town and I know what I was able to do here," Fix said.
That doesn't mean business was slow, he said. He knows from liability waivers that all of his customers had to sign that he was seeing 2,000 new customers a year. Unfortunately, many were one-time visitors. They included tourists and youngsters who came to the gym as members of large groups that received discounted rates. A variety of youth recreation programs visited Vertical Grip, he said.
"It was widely used for all these years," Fix said. "I'm extremely disappointed for the large majority of kids that were using my facility."
Steamboat Springs Middle School has a climbing wall in its arcade and the Steamboat Ski Area rents a portable outdoor climbing wall for summer use in Gondola Square.
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