Ouray gem’s future in limbo after loss of long-term lease in Beaumont
The Ouray Bookshop will close a chapter in its long history at the Beaumont Hotel by the end of the year, after the hotel’s new owners said they would not renew a long-term lease for the business.
For bookstore owners Amy and Brian Exstrum, the news that the business would not be able to ensure its home at the Beaumont came as an especially hard blow. They were in the midst of an agreement to sell the bookshop, which had been listed for sale since January, when they received the news that their lease would be month-to-month starting in 2024.
The Beaumont sold for $6.3 million in July to new owners Eliot and Tara Vancil, who split their time between Ouray and Midlothian, Texas. Eliot’s sister, Esther Friesen, and her husband, Clint, relocated from Estes Park to help run the Beaumont. In an interview with the Plaindealer after the sale, the Vancils said they wanted to reopen the hotel to the public, as well as its restaurants and spa, and they would seek to make small changes to spaces within the hotel before making big investments.
According to an email to the Exstrums from ELV Investments Vice President of Development Tommy Liebhart, they were notified a month ago that the new owners wouldn’t be renewing the five-year lease for the bookshop.
“We really love the bookstore but we also have been told that the town would love to see the restaurant and courtyard opened up too,” Liebhart wrote in an Aug. 4 email. “So with that in mind, we’d like to reserve the opportunity to expand the restaurant footprint at a future date…” In that email, Liebhart offered a month-to-month lease, which the Exstrums said is not possible for the bookshop to operate under, given the amount of inventory and the lead time on ordering books.
In response to a request for an interview, Eliot Vancil emailed a statement to the Plaindealer on Tuesday, saying “it’s unfortunate that this situation has garnered attention in the news.” He said he is “pro bookstore” and said it is a valuable addition for hotel guests.
Vancil’s statement also said the bookshop sale “created concern” for him. The bookshop has been for sale since January.
“We don’t know the potential of new owners, their suitability for our property, their business skills, or their creditworthiness,” he wrote, citing these concerns as reasons why the long-term lease wasn’t extended. He did not mention the restaurant expansion option, referenced earlier by Liebhart, as a reason for nonrenewal.
However, Vancil mentioned visiting with a “party interested in buying the bookstore,” and indicated they “collaborated on ideas to enhance the experience for our guests and their customers.”
The identity of this person who is interested in buying the bookshop, who has collaborated with the new Beaumont owners, isn’t clear, but the Exstrums said they are not involved in those discussions.
The Exstrums requested a meeting with the Vancils about the situation but said they never received a response. They said they were only contacted by Liebhart, who is in Texas, via email and phone.
Vancil also said in his statement, “We want the bookstore in the hotel and remain open to identifying common ground until a new owner is identified.”
But the Exstrums said it’s difficult to see how they would reach common ground when the Vancils never responded to their request for a meeting.
“One of my disappointments is the new owners have never met with us,” Brian said. “And I’m disappointed that the area will not have a bookshop.”
While the Exstrums were attempting to speak with the new hotel owners, a letter of agreement for a prospective buyer for the bookshop expired Aug. 31. Now the Exstrums expect to close the shop by the end of the year if they can’t find both a new owner and a new location for the bookshop before then.
But Vancil said he plans on having a bookshop at the Beaumont.
“We have no plans for this space being anything other than a bookstore at this time,” Vancil wrote in an email in response to questions about his statement.
“We’ve never been told that,” Amy said. “The only communication we’ve had is from Tommy,” which indicated the owners would like to keep options open for expanding the restaurant.
Amy said the only plans she’s aware of for the space are ones she overheard when she was working in the shop on Sept. 5, before opening for the day.
Vancil and another man entered the breezeway above the shop, in between the patio and the hotel. They stood above the glass doors to the shop and she heard them discuss shrinking the size of the bookshop, pushing it forward into half the space, putting in chairs and tables and couches and serving coffee.
“They’ve never spoken to us about this,” she said. “There was never a discussion about working something out or whether we could function in a smaller space.”
“They just said we’re not extending your long-term lease,” she said. “Everybody understands we can’t function on a month-to-month lease.”
The couple said they were initially hopeful about the new hotel ownership, and the possibility that the new owners would reopen the hotel and courtyard to the public and resurrect the property’s two restaurants, which co-existed with the bookshop when Dan and Mary King, who remodeled the Beaumont, owned the hotel.
But this experience has soured their excitement about the latest phase of the historic hotel, and they said they’re not the only ones.
“Dozens of customers have told us they were excited about the new ownership of The Beaumont until this happened,” Amy said. “Now, however, they will not be patronizing the hotel in any form.”
“They’re ticked off about it,” she said. Amy, 60, and Brian, 66, hoped to hand off the business to a new owner this month. They’ve both already retired from other careers and said they’re ready for a break. Instead, they’re making plans for liquidation sales and fielding calls from customers who are devastated about the news. For them, it’s not as much about an inability to recoup their financial investment – it’s about losing what their customers have called a “local gem.”
Amy’s eyes start to water when customers tell her how much they’ll miss “their bookshop.”
Since they announced the situation to customers, they’ve encountered disbelief, shock and tears from those who cherish the shop from far and wide.
While some members of the community have called the hotel and lobbied for the Beaumont owners to keep the bookshop there long-term, the Exstrums said they think it’s best the bookshop has a new home, even if the hotel owners listened to the community and changed their minds.
“The trust is so broken now,” Amy said. “It looks like it’s no longer possible for us to stay.”
Some customers have been visiting for more than 20 years – back when it was initially started as Buckskin Booksellers by P. David Smith — and kept coming to buy books when Robert Stoufer later owned the shop. He sold the business to the Exstrums in 2019 and still works there, helping customers with books about everything from history and geology to fiction.
Stoufer is one of six employees who will lose their jobs when the bookshop closes. Those employees include the Exstrums’ son, Charlie, who is 28 years old and developmentally disabled. He sweeps the shop daily and will need to find a new job.
The Exstrums are proceeding with plans to close the shop by the end of the year, as they have too much inventory to liquidate quickly. The lease officially expires Feb. 29, 2024.
They encourage anyone with a gift certificate or reader rewards benefits to use them as soon as possible.
“We think it’s only fair for people to have the ability to use them,” Amy said.
They said they appreciate the support from the community and any leads on new ownership or locations. At this point, the future of the Ouray Bookshop is a blank page.
“Ideally, we find a new owner and a new spot to relocate the bookshop,” Amy said. “If not, we will close by the end of the year.”