Steamboat Springs Next to the old-style drug store with a soda fountain offering ice cream and hot dogs is a heavy, wide-swinging door that opens to a flight of well-worn stairs.
Climb up all 23 steps and walk down the narrow hallway, past Sew What tailors and Shear Performance, the hair salon with the black and white sign reminiscent of the 1950s. Near the hallway’s end, you might see Christie Ginanni Stepan working a 120-year-old letterpress with her foot, cranking out handmade invitations, cards and pieces of art at Fancy Ink Press. Walk past her door and look into the Robin’s Nest, where antique shop owner Robin Lorenz displays racks of vintage scarves, figurines, a belt buckle from 1887 and much more.
It might be hard to believe it’s 2010. But that’s the nature of the Squire Building at Ninth Street and Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat Springs. Two new or expanding businesses fit the building’s historic billing. Lorenz opened Robin’s Nest, offering “a vintage venue and antiques,” on Saturday. Ginanni Stepan has worked in the Fancy Ink studio space for about a year, she said, but is expanding her hours and offerings in an effort to boost her labor-intensive, handcrafted business.
Visiting the neighboring shops provides an instant throwback.
Ginanni Stepan said her cast-iron, 350-pound, Golding Pearl letterpress was carried up the building’s steps in pieces after being shipped from Texas.
Her Fancy Ink Press studio also contains a Conrad etching press and numerous drawers filled with lead type — lead stencils of letters and numbers in various fonts and sizes that were once used by a newspaper in Billings, Mont. Ginanni Stepan bought the type from Steamboat Springs resident Christy Borden, also the owner of a letterpress. Borden said the type dates to about 1900.
“I have to wash my hands a lot,” Ginanni Stepan noted, citing the lead’s toxicity.
But using those materials in a letterpress technique that dates back centuries, she said, produces distinctive results for her products.
“It has a unique, textural, three-dimensional quality to it,” she said Monday, as her bright-eyed husky mix, Mowgli, loped around the studio. “You can tell it’s handmade.”
Ginanni Stepan said once the ink is set and the lettering is aligned, she can create 500 cards in a couple of hours. To provide a ballpark estimate on pricing, she said a standard set of 100 color invitations, plus envelopes, could cost about $600.
Not far from the circa-1890 letterpress sits Ginanni Stepan’s iPhone, which takes calls on her Google Voice phone number. She uses social media and e-mail daily. But Ginanni Stepan’s business is banking on the value in handmade, heartfelt communication.
“A lot of times, it’s necessary to send a friend a card. … (And) it’s cool to receive mail,” she said. “I think it’s something that’s memorable.”
Next door, there’s a memory behind every item in Robin’s Nest.
Lorenz said she has been collecting antiques all her life — piece by piece, or buying out entire collections — and finally decided to set up shop.
“It was just too much stuff,” she said. “I really needed a store presence.”
The word “stuff” doesn’t do her wares justice.
Lorenz offers items including genuine Hummel figurines from Germany; mint-condition Sports Illustrated magazines from 1955 with ski pioneer Buddy Werner on the cover; belt buckles in an array of sizes, including one from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1887; and a kaleidoscope of silk scarves, including one owned by French film actress Isabelle Corey. Most items have a Western, ranching or skiing flair.
“I don’t have anything unless it pertains to our way of life,” she said. “I’m really picky.”
She ought to be — Lorenz counted every one of the Squire Building’s 23 steps while setting up Robin’s Nest.
“How many times have I been up those stairs?” Lorenz said with a laugh. “It’s a good, healthy workout.”