Vandalism stings new owner

Rocks thrown through windows of former Azteca building

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Steamboat Springs businessman Jace Romick is as sorry as any of its loyal customers to have seen Azteca Taqueria temporarily suspend business last week. So, it's particularly disappointing to him to have someone taking it out on him.

Unknown people tossed a rock through a first-story window of the former restaurant building at 402 Lincoln Ave. on Friday night. It happened again Sunday night ; that time, a second-story window was broken.

Romick signed a contract to purchase the building more than six months ago, he said, and he has waited all this time to take possession of the building. It was for sale for three years, and he had been studying the purchase for a year. When the windows were broken, Romick took it as a sign that people who are disgruntled at the disruption in their burrito and taco supply blame him.

"It almost feels personal," Romick said, "and I know it's not. But I've had very few people mad at me in my life, and this doesn't feel good."

His plan all year has been to move his furniture store, Romicks' Home Collection, from its West Steamboat location to the downtown log building before ski season.

Azteca's owners were in the process of removing the last of their equipment from their former location Monday, and they were upbeat about their chances of signing a lease on a new location in the near future.

They had made plans to avoid their current predicament over the summer, co-owner John Bitume said, and fully expected to move into another location in Old Town Steamboat. However, when that arrangement fell through in late August, they found themselves confronted with a very narrow window of opportunity to make alternative arrangements.

Azteca's owners have said they don't hold Romick responsible for their situation. In a September interview, Bitume said that he didn't harbor resentment toward Romick -- the loss of their first alternative simply caught them by surprise.

Romick spent his early childhood in Steamboat before moving away during his teens and pursuing a career with the U.S. Ski Team. He returned to Steamboat more than 15 years ago. He said he hoped Azteca's customers would understand he, too, is a Steamboat businessman, and acquiring the building was part of his own strategy to avoid losing a lease and having his established business disrupted in the future.

"I'm a local businessman who struggled and did what was necessary" to be successful, Romick said. "I'm not some out-of-state corporate franchise coming into town to throw those guys out. I hope this works out for them."

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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