Business lessons of past

Light family history showcased at Tread of Pioneers Museum

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Visiting the new Light family exhibit at the Tread of Pioneers Museum is like taking a crash course in the art of business ownership.

During the past century, the Light family has shown an instinct for swings in the marketplace, and the one-room, yearlong exploration of their history follows that journey.

Since dedicating a room to the "Foundations of Steamboat," the museum has celebrated the stories of the Crawfords, the Gays and the Gossards. Family photographs and memorabilia give viewers the feeling that they are taking a look into the private homes of the families on exhibit.

Museum staff chose the Light family for the 2005-06 exhibit, in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the F.M. Light & Sons store on Lincoln Avenue.

The exhibit was easy to arrange, curator Kelly Bastone said. Annabeth Lockhart already has written a book, due out this fall, about the Light family. She collected photos and items from the store for her book.

The exhibit begins with 1905, the year the Light family first arrived in Steamboat Springs. Within months, family members opened the store that now is a fixture of downtown.

Instead of the casual Western clothes on sale today, the early years were dedicated to selling men's suits.

They advertised themselves as "clothiers for men who know."

Elegant suits may have seemed an odd retail choice for a town of barely 1,000 people, populated by cowboys and miners, but the Lights saw opportunity where others did not.

Whether there was a market for suits is hard to tell. If there was not, the Lights created one. At the center of the exhibit is an old Underwood typewriter that holds one of the many letters F.M. Light & Sons sent to its potential customers. It was an early version of direct mailing.

The exhibit also catalogues other business ventures of members of the Light family. There are photos of Wayne Light's fox farm, which was opened in the 1920s. At the time, fox pelts sold for $600 a piece. The farm remained operational until the 1940s, after World War II, when the market for fox pelts fell out.

There also is a photo from the era in which the Light family got into the dog breeding business. In 1932, after the Lindbergh kidnapping, a market for guard dogs opened up. The Lights responded by breeding and selling Great Dane puppies.

When the demand fizzled out, Bastone said, the family moved on to other endeavors.

The "Foundations of Steam--boat: The Light Family" exhibit will be on display on the second floor of the Tread of Pioneers Museum until August 2006.

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