In Breckenridge, spice shop owners seasoned by economic grind
August 20, 2014
Jars filled with loud yellows, faded greens and rusted reds line shelves made of rough-hewn wood.
The earth-tone colors look like something from a used car lot, but they also represent a successful new life made by persevering through the ups and downs of our economic system.
In 2006, Kim and Ja Lene Potsema both found themselves on shaky ground. Both happened to be working in fields that were about to be the hardest hit by the looming recession. Kim engineered automobiles. His wife, Ja Lene, supplied home loans. Those weren't ideal industries in the mid- to late-aughts. So, in the midst of middle age, the Potsemas packed up and moved on, ready to start fresh late in life.
"We left our jobs in Michigan," Ja Lene said. "Both our industries were collapsing. The writing was on the wall. We knew if we didn't sell our house soon it would lose a lot of its value."
Initially, they planned to reinvent themselves in sunny Arizona.
"It was very hard there in the summer," Ja Lene said. "We didn't want any more snow, but 120 degrees in the day was hard to struggle through."
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So Lisa Freeman, Kim's sister, suggested Summit County.
"She knew all about Breckenridge because she used to spend a lot of time here," Ja Lene said. "She knew the perfect spot."
So in 2009, they picked up and moved again. But the economy was bleeding even worse by then. They moved to Summit and opened a small business, Spice Merchants, in downtown Breckenridge.
"When we first opened our business here the economy was so bad," Ja Lene said. "It was slow, but we persevered."
At first it looked like they jumped from one bad situation to another, but they focused on improving their new business and held on. Now their effort and perseverance are starting to pay off. They just celebrated their fifth year on Main Street.
"Last year business was way up," Ja Lene said.
"It was concerning for us in the beginning," Kim said. "But in the last year we've seen the economy improving, and it's made a difference for us."
And, according to economists, this summer is the busiest on record for the tourist industry ever in the High Rockies.
They recently moved into a larger location at 324 S. Main St., just a couple blocks south of their old location below Breckenridge Cannabis Club.
Jars filled with loose tea leaves and various spices, located directly below a marijuana shop, made for interesting misunderstandings in their old location.
"Some people would wander in and think we were associated with the pot shop upstairs," Ja Lene said. "They'd be staring at some of the jars, and I'd have to tell them that's not the stuff they are looking for."
And although some are very exotic, the spice and leaves they sell in Spice Merchants are legal in all 50 states. But it's those far-out items that set them apart from most spice or tea shops in the state.
"We have 100 varieties of loose-leaf teas," Ja Lene said. "And we have the best selection of sea salts in all of Colorado."
Out of the wide variety of teas, Ja Lene's favorite is a coconut milky oolong.
"When I turn people on to it they always come back for more," she added.
The sea salts look like desert sands on an alien planet. They come in colors of red, pink, white and gray. Some have been infused with flavors like lime or habanero.
The store's other popular items include grill rubs, which come in a wide variety of flavors, and sage wands blended with groupings of wild flowers collected from across Colorado.
Even though the Potsemas have long left their Michigan careers in the rearview mirror, Kim still has a connection to the automotive industry, though it's a bit different. He drives a bus on the Breckenridge route for Summit School district. Handling those steep inclines in the snow is cake compared with surviving the ups and downs of the U.S. economy.
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