Miller: A chain-store kinda county |

Miller: A chain-store kinda county

Alex Miller

In the aftermath of Silverthorne Town Council’s vote to allow a Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse to be built in town, I got to thinking about how this argument shook out and what it said about the people of Summit County.

One camp’s position was that a Lowe’s is simply too big, too incompatible with our “mountain town atmosphere” and best left in the city, suburbs, Avon or, really, anywhere but here. Other considerations included the impact on similar local businesses (which would presumably be negative, if not devastating), traffic and environmental concerns and worries that the local market simply doesn’t need such a large purveyor of home improvement stuff.

The other, seemingly larger camp said a Lowe’s would be a welcome addition to the county. Citing higher prices and not-so-great service of the smaller existing stores, they looked forward to having the option and competition of a larger big-box retailer. And, they pointed out, one can hardly say Silverthorne – with its outlets, Target, car dealerships and “a highway runs through it” town core – is some bucolic mountain berg that would be forever sullied by the replacement of an abandoned car lot with a Lowe’s.

This last point is interesting, since it points to an old argument Summit County residents have been wrestling with for some time. No doubt the Utes who made summer camp here for thousands of years before whites arrived thought the wagons, dredges and other mining equipment that showed up around 1860 represented an obvious change for the worse. I’m sure there were some grumpy ranchers and others who took a dim view of those new-fangled diesel chairlifts being installed on the flanks of Arapahoe Basin back in 1946. Certainly few residents of Dillon were thrilled with having to move their homes when Denver Water built the dam back in the 1960s, and the arrival of the factory stores in the 1980s had many residents of Silverthorne upset: Was this really what we wanted the town to be? And did anyone find it odd that part of the project was being built in the residential area of Rainbow Drive?

All water under the bridge now, of course, as will be the sight of a Lowe’s standing more or less at the entrance to Summit County sometime in 2012. Perhaps it will even be joined by a Home Depot across the street and, what the heck, how about a Costco and an Applebees and a few more Starbucks while we’re at it? Surely most of our visitors and second-home owners will feel much more comfortable with all these chain retailers and restaurants they know and love, right? And the locals will benefit from all the cheap stuff and predictable (if boring) food options, no? We can keep trading in our Old Dillon Inns for Chipotles and our Colorado Drugs for Walmarts until, eventually, Summit County (or Dilverthorne, at least) is indistinguishable from Lakewood, or Sioux City.

But, then, what can one reasonably expect from a tourist destination a little over an hour from Denver? If we wanted that fabled mountain-town identity, we coulda-shoulda moved to Aspen (ha!) or Telluride or even Stowe. Chain-store creep may be as inevitable as the march of the pine beetle, although there are also mechanisms communities can employ to prevent such (see Stowe, above). For better or worse, Summit County as a community seems to be saying we’re OK with chains and, in the case of Lowe’s, the bigger the better. Cheaper prices most certainly equate to a cheapening of the landscape, and no doubt some visitors will recoil in horror at the mess of chain-store crap greeting them on their Colorado vacation. (“Honey, this don’t look like the brochure we got in the mail … Let’s go to Steamboat.”) Others, perhaps most, won’t care.

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Summit County, love it or leave it. And welcome to Lowe’s … “Let’s Build Something Together.”

Summit Daily editor Alex Miller can be reached at or (970) 668-4618.