I find one of the most enjoyable aspects of getting to know new places is discovering the richness of history and character built into the area. Whether it is just a weekend getaway or finding a new place to lay down roots, I am always captivated by the hidden treasures tucked away in the architecture, people, types of businesses and downtown areas, like a historical roadmap laid out with layers of intriguing stories.

I call the Arkansas River Valley home; though I have been here eight years, I am still learning so much about the valley and the variety of people that have called this place home before me. Though this area is known for its outdoor appeal with the Collegiate Peaks as a backdrop and the Arkansas River cutting through its heart, the landmark downtowns of Salida and Buena Vista offer a comfortable setting for retail, restaurants, and locally-owned businesses as an entertaining alternative. I have fallen in love with the quaint and eccentric atmosphere that they display. The majority of the buildings are still original from when these towns were founded during the mining and railroad days, and it is obvious that, along with the excitement of growth, these communities maintain a deep appreciation for their heritage.

Opal Boutique in Salida

It is often just as interesting to walk into a store with the purpose of taking in the architecture that exposes the building’s past as it is to explore the local retail. My favorite shopping locale is Opal Boutique, located in Salida’s historic downtown district. Not only do I favor the on-trend, affordable women’s clothing that Opal has to offer, but I also appreciated that the building itself is full of eye-catching details that spark curiosity about their originality. The owners, PJ and Merrell Bergin, have owned the building for over 20 years. Established more than 120 years ago in 1890, PJ Bergin noted that the business space has held various styles of commerce including a men’s department store, a sewing haberdashery, a fabric store, and a restaurant.

“We weren’t looking for an investment necessarily, but we enjoyed coming to Salida on the weekends and knew we wanted to get serious about purchasing a home. The apartment above the space needed a lot of work, but the original clerestory and amount of space sold us. All of a sudden, we were landlords. The building took a lot to maintain but it had a solid structure for its age,” she said.

“We kept as much of the original material and fixtures as we could. The tin ceiling tiles in Opal along with the tin and crown molding are all preserved, and the ghost sign on the outside bricks is one of the best kept in the state!”

The nostalgic charm is evident from the outside in; and the boutique, owned by Lizzie Farnsworth, has been able to uphold the historical value that is so noteworthy while creating an inviting and comfortable ambiance for customers to enjoy. The vaulted ceiling styles an open and airy feel with the vintage tin and crown elements and plenty of natural light throughout, but her fixtures and reclaimed-wood displays provide a more polished rustic chic design that on par with today’s mountain-modern movement. Along with the neutral color scheme, variety of textures, and handmade wall art, Farnsworth has achieved a timeless concept. To me, Opal Boutique is the perfect combination of architectonic eye candy and unique women’s products imbedded right into the excitement of downtown.

Opal Boutique, in Salida’s historic downtown district

“We have found that the building truly has a nice vibe and energy for retail, and being on the sunny side of the street makes a huge difference. It is fun being able to live right downtown and share the story of the building’s history with others,” added Bergin.

Venturing just 24 easy miles north along a scenic highway, I find myself happily at home in Buena Vista. With a claim-to-fame as a one-stoplight town, it is haven to a much simpler downtown concept: storefronts are geared toward the river and mountain adventure scene, and the town center plays host to various exclusive restaurants. More recently, the town has branched out in its shopping varietal, filling even more niches for the seasonal tourism industry. Just as Salida is continually revamping the downtown area while maintaining its notable appeal, I have enjoyed watching the makeovers and enhancements on Main Street in Buena Vista, with new businesses offering fun gift ideas and eclectic items for the house and home.

One of my go-to destinations for antiques, plants, and interesting products that I can only find here is Rock Paper Scissors (RPS). This store offers an eccentric mix of apothecary and nursery all wrapped up in an understated formal appeal, much like something I could find in the up-and-coming neighborhood of the city. Its storefront is settled between the staple coffeehouse in town, Buena Vista Roastery Cafe, and the newly restored Loft Orpheum Theater, with a vintage Dutch door painted green to pop among the neutral palette of grays, beiges, and black. The natural light is what inspires me when I step into RPS. The succulents and greenery throughout the shop encourage a sense of life, while her burning candles and fragrant self-care products invite me into the space with warmth and comfort. However, it is the exposed brick and painted concrete floors that give way to this location’s story.

Rock Paper Scissors in Buena Vista

Owner and creative mind behind RPS, Victoria Hock has been in this space since 2017. Though she is not the owner of the building, she has been granted artistic control. Her shop dog Louie is always relaxed and ready to make your acquaintance as you discover Hock’s personally handmade pieces and as you get to know her through the inspired aesthetic of these four walls.

“We repainted most every surface — I did an abstract mural that wraps around the walls, painted the floors, and painted the front door. As far as displays, I look for unique pieces to mix in with our shelving to add pops of interest. I use lots of organic material to create displays, such as wood, rock, moss, etc. I love repurposing found items, like the old pallet that we turned into a hanging display for air plants, or the old cable spool we use as a table. I have relied on my taste as far as decorating goes, so the store is very much a reflection of my personal style,” she commented.

“I’m drawn toward dark colors with pops of light. I try to keep myself inspired to be creative in my pottery, jewelry and painting. I feel so lucky to have a place that I can express myself and create an atmosphere that other people enjoy as well.”

As an artist, Hock was originally looking for a pop-up space in 2015 to showcase her own handmade pieces. However, with the overwhelming support she received, and the timing of the space becoming available, she was able to expand and stay open year-round. In my opinion, her store is a wonderful asset and addition to our downtown area. The RPS curbside appeal pops among the rest of the mountain-town nuanced vibe, so her imaginative approach combines the fresh with the antique, as well as an urban style with the high-altitude landscape, completing an ambiance that is uniquely her own.

“We take a lot of time to create layers within the store, which encourages people to look through all that we have to offer. Our local following comes in knowing that they will see something new and that things are constantly changing. I hope visitors come in and feel like they found a gem in a small town, Hock said.

“The white brick wall is my favorite part of the building. I’ve always loved old brick and the dozens of layers of paint make me think about the history of the building and how many different businesses and people these walls have seen.”

Making my way across Main Street, I come across the original Jacobs Building, constructed by John Jacobs of Germany in early 1888 as a saloon and second-floor residence. Current owners, Johnny and Renata Hughes, have used this characteristically ornate building as a center for their shared community space. The history etched into its walls reminisces of its times as a hotel, an undertaker’s parlor, an antique store, a bed and breakfast, and even a coffee roaster. The Jacobs Building is home to The Village, a fair trade home and gift store owned by Cheryl Richmond. It also shares an outdoor space with the popular Jailhouse Craft Beer Bar and Louie’s Ice Cream Shoppe. With seating, play areas, and outdoor games for all ages to appreciate, it is truly a hub for our petite, family-centered society.

The Village and Louie’s Ice Cream Shoppe in Buena Vista

Before The Village opened its doors in 2016, significant restoration was required. Although 70 tons of material were removed, the history-details remained intact, preserving the original floors, exposed brick, hotel doors and transom window, hardware fixtures, and even the boiler and radiators.

“I LOVE what John as done to expose, preserve and highlight the original materials used to build this beautiful structure! I was inspired to open my store in this space because of the natural beauty and abundance of light that gives the feeling of home and warmth the minute you walk through the doors. Our fair trade products complement the brick walls and creaking floor with their natural handmade beauty and copious amounts of color. The combination could not be better,” exclaimed Richmond.

“We love that our global impact is given such a grand stage and that we are able to highlight the responsibly sourced practices and contribute to the fight against poverty and economic crisis, all within our charming small town.”

This space mirrors the tales of Buena Vista, reminding us of how far we’ve come since the rambunctious Wild West days that made this area so iconic. Hughes added that once the town of Buena Vista became the county seat in the early 1880s, new residents were able to establish lasting businesses funded by the mining profits which resulted in a period of affluence.

“The Jacobs Building is typical of a commercial property located in many developing western towns during the 1880s.  The structure was one of these thriving commercial endeavors, with its history of prosperity and evolving commercial enterprises closely paralleling the larger economic development of the town throughout history,” he said.

With The Village already acting as my go-to for household décor, like fun centerpieces or handmade napkins, it is once again the story behind its walls that pulls on my heartstrings and fills me with even more pride for this valley and what it has to offer. Just like the Jacobs Building over 120 years ago, The Village and its building is a true icon for our picturesque river town. I can only dream of what impression these distinguished shopping locales are etching into the valley’s history for decades to come and feel excited to be part of those stories.

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Opal Boutique
128 F St., Salida
On Facebook

Rock Paper Scissors
411 E Main St, Buena Vista
rockpaperscissorscreative.com
(website needs to be confirmed, not working on 03 Mar)

Buena Vista Roastery Cafe
409 E. Main St., Buena Vista
bvroasterycafe.com

Loft Orpheum Theater
413 E. Main St., Buena Vista
loftmusicvenue.com

The Village
414 E. Main St., Buena Vista
thevillagebv.com

Jailhouse Craft Beer Bar
412 E. Main St., Buena Vista
thejailhousebv.com

Louie’s Ice Cream Shoppe
414 E. Main St., Buena Vista
On Facebook

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Words and Photos by Melody Buschur