Panel gives Steamboat entrepreneur forum with Sen. Hickenlooper to discuss new business, transitions
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs entrepreneur Robin Hall was among a group of rural small business leaders who spoke, along with U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, as part of a panel Tuesday hosted by The Wright, a newly formed Colorado nonprofit.
“It was really fun,” Hall said of being a part of the panel. “I felt heard. He (Hickenlooper) said he wanted to meet us in person in the next 12 months, so this is the first of many conversations with him, and I’m really, really excited about it.”
Hall, who is just getting her Steamboat-based business Town Hall Outdoor Co. off the ground, was one of four speakers who discussed the challenges facing businesses in rural Colorado, particularly from the pandemic. The business owners were invited to describe the challenges they faced as the pandemic spread and how they have adapted their businesses to survive in the uncertain times. It was a chance for them to share their own stories and other ideas with Hickenlooper and more than 48 other virtual participants across Colorado.
Hall was joined by Andy Sanchez, co-owner of The Walter Brewing Co. in Pueblo; Jennifer Vierling, co-founder of Tailwind Nutrition in Durango; and P.T. Wood, co-founder of Wood’s High Mountain Distillery. He is also mayor of Salida.
All of the business owners had different stories but shared a common connection to their communities. They spoke of the importance of communication when it came to navigating the pandemic and how critical the PPP and Economic Impact Disaster Loans were.
“Those programs were really critical lifelines that helped us survive the last year,” Wood said. “I think the American Recovery Plan is going to be a really important piece of making sure that we continue to move forward into some of the headwinds we’re seeing.”
Hall’s specific challenges began before COVID-19, but it was her community that kept her in place.
“I remember Aug. 13, 2018, like it was yesterday,” Hall said. “I was camping with my two young sons and my husband, and we got a call from VF Corp saying that Smartwool was moving to Denver. I was crushed, I was devastated.”
She had spent 11 years working at Smartwool in Steamboat and fell in love with the area, its lifestyle and community. When her job left for Denver, Hall decided not to follow and moved in a different direction.
“This was not in my grand plans,” Hall said. “I was going to retire at Smartwool. It was the pinnacle, it was the best place I’ve ever worked, and it was beautiful. It still is, of course, but it’s just not in Steamboat.”
Hall is focused on the idea of creating purpose-built, planet-friendly clothing that will keep children warm, dry and comfortable on the ski slopes, sledding or whenever they go outside. The idea is to manufacture clothing that is high-quality and durable enough to be handed down and used again by brothers, sisters and friends.
The idea was born a year ago, in the middle of a pandemic.
“We’re coming forth with logo and branding in the next six to eight weeks,” Hall said. “Then, in the fall, we will launch, and we’ll be doing snow and cold weather gear for kids.”
The panel was the first time Hall has spoken publicly about the company.
“We want to keep it all in the family and give people a home here and keep jobs here and just give back to this great place that’s given us so much,” Hall said. “There’s a reason why I’m going to live here for the rest of my life, and I want to keep giving back to make sure it remains the way it has for so many years.”
Hickenlooper listened to the business owners as they shared their stories. He took notes as they expressed their ideas of how things can be improved and stayed an extra 10 minutes to keep the conversation going.
“I’ve heard that Sen. Hickenlooper is just fantastic. He is just a Colorado lover and entrepreneur and just wants, as he said, to sit down and have a coffee or a beer with you,” Hall said. “… And that’s very much what this felt like.”
Editors note: This story has been updated to correctly spell the nonprofit’s name.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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