Guest Column: Drop Anchor and Set sail in Downtown Rifle
Regardless of your political affiliation or culinary taste, downtown Rifle has lost one of its flagship merchants. For better or worse, Shooter’s Grill is closing its downtown location. More cameras, more swag and more meals. Media reports that the new owners of the downtown building will not be renewing the restaurant’s lease. The sign is out. “See you later.” The end of an era. The anchor is gone and the boat is gone.
Located right in the middle of Rifle’s historic 3rd Street, the Grill, loosely known as greasy spoon before 2014, rocketed into national news with its quirky atmosphere: many waitresses carried guns on their hips while throwing hash. Cool factor? Please check.
Whether it was publicity or practicality, we won’t know, but it certainly sparked debate, outrage and, at the very least, intrigue. Amazed men in their sixties might proudly proclaim: I ate there. I got the t-shirt, took the photo and it was worth the trip. Cha Ching.
Holding on through the downtown transition period, the Grill was once again in the spotlight, but this time for politics. And guns. Or maybe guns and politics. Guns, politics and, well, more guns. Either way, Lauren Boebert, the owner of Shooter’s, would eventually win a Colorado congressional seat. His ascent brought attention to downtown Rifle that was impossible to ignore.
Bobert boldly proclaimed “Damn no, you won’t take my gun” on the steps of the Colorado state capitol building, and soon found herself in Washington D.C. Meanwhile, back home , the Grill turned up the heat on their alley smoker and brought in their “A” merch game. Nothing wrong with a bit of tourism for a small town named Rifle. As Jackie Gleason said, “Here we go!”
All history aside, this article isn’t about politics, it’s about downtown Rifle and small business in general, which nationally and in Rifle is a dying breed. Not because they are bad businesses or bad business owners, but because businesses, to thrive, need thriving communities and those are rare right now.
There’s no doubt that Rifle’s fame came with a dollop of controversy, but are we used to it by now, or are we weary and looking for something to help the medicine down? It doesn’t matter, because even today, as I walked past Shooter’s, windows closed, there was activity. Three men, all with gray hair, get out of their Illinois-plated SUV to stretch their legs. Take a photo in front of the barrel-adorned windows and come back to leave, but not before one of them stops, takes a look, and says, “There’s nothing else here. ”
There’s nothing else here, is a phrase I’ve pondered all evening and now has me hitting keys on my iPad. Trying to figure out how to build and maintain small business relationships that benefit the growth of this amazing community is too big a task for me to tackle alone. Indeed, it is a Goliath that will not fall without an army. Charge.
There’s a lot to love downtown, but, for any brick-and-mortar business, let’s face it, navigation is tough. Scratch that. Cruel navigation. Companies that hang here, hang on. E-commerce hits hard all year round. In fact, the day I write this, my wife informed me of her newest retail temptation: a robotic vacuum cleaner that whips while you sleep. Don’t judge us, it was Amazon Prime day.
Back when the West was conquered, marketplaces worked very differently than they do today. For example, haggling over price was commonplace as it was seen as an opportunity to get to know each other and a way to build trust for future transactions. Today, those little social exchanges are expendable moments that we quickly throw away as we grab our digital shield: the phone. By protecting ourselves from unwarranted social interaction in this way, we will only become more estranged as a community, and as a result, the city center will only become dustier and emptier.
Small businesses can only thrive if we know each other.
It’s true that, as things stand, we treat our downtown as if it’s in the way and not in the way. I understand and I’m guilty of that too, but there’s no way to get to I70 except to plow right through each of those incessant stop lights. The speed limit is 25, but let’s face it, downtown pedestrians will ALWAYS be in the way. I’d even go so far as to say that Rifle doesn’t have a downtown, we have a thoroughfare and no one wants to get picked up on Railroad. We all got closer. I love and appreciate the work being done in the new downtown. The walking spaces, even the grounds and the masonry are all wonderful, but there is a bustle in the streets that keeps us away. Hopefully it’s not forever.
Some political affiliates would consider Shooter’s withdrawal from downtown a victory, but they don’t live here. We do. It’s a loss. Not a fatal loss, but a detrimental blow, nonetheless. Going forward, let’s not leave it up to one company to hold the fort. Let’s build a community downtown that values relationships and spending time with others. The anchor is us and we haven’t left yet.
We are simply the ones who can build a vibrant downtown that we are proud of, love to visit and can pass on to the next generation. A great downtown is so much more than buying and selling, it’s relationships. People gather for the premiere. Acquaintances get to know each other better. Old friends deepening their relationship.
Yes, to develop the gun economy, we will need much more than the old mantra: buy local. Downtown’s hope doesn’t start with the arrival of the next big retail giant, it starts with us claiming what’s ours: the marketplace. People are the anchor and a loving community will always be the most attractive thing for visitors. For the downtown to grow, the community must come before the competition.
What is that? You wanted to ask about my favorite dish at Shooter’s Grill? A delicious burger, of course: the “Guac Nine”. I savored it and cherished the time I spent in Shooters with friends and neighbors.
Jonathan Phillips has lived in Rifle for almost 10 years.