Ridgway consignment shop marks milestone as artists’ haven
When Lupita’s Bizarre Bazaar owner Susan Baker came to Ridgway in 1989, she saw potential in the little “cowboy town” to be what it is today. And when Baker envisions something, things happen.
Maybe she didn’t set out to transform the sleepy town into an artistic community. But she saw the potential, and through her actions the town evolved.
Baker made her personal dreams happen here, too, despite the obstacles a single woman faced at the time in obtaining a construction loan and starting a business. This year, Lupita’s celebrates 30 years in business.
“I had always admired the area because it was so beautiful. It was a cowboy town, but I knew there would be opportunity as a bedroom community of Telluride,” Baker said.
After decades of being a ski bum or working as an assistant in the medical field or in business, and with her two daughters grown, the then-45-year-old Baker was ready to start a business of her own in Ridgway.
“I was a potter and I had a lot of artist friends and thought maybe I’ll do a consignment shop,” Baker said.
Though committed to Ridgway and a consignment shop, Baker had trouble settling on a location.
“There wasn’t a place in town that had a decent feeling,” Baker said, noting the buildings in town were leaky and in disrepair.
The only place to go in town for food and entertainment back then was The Little Chef, a restaurant, bar and dance hall located on Sherman Street where the Agave Azul Mexican restaurant recently opened.
At the time, the owner of the lot where Lupita’s now stands across from Hartwell Park planned to build a motel there.
“I bugged him so much,” Baker said.
Her perseverance paid off and she convinced him her idea would be good for local artists and better for the community than a motel.
“He ended up selling it to me, and I had no idea what I was doing. I got four ‘no’s when I asked for loans,” Baker recalled.
She ultimately obtained a loan from Citizens State Bank in Ouray, but had to fight for her preferred location because the bank wanted her to build in Ouray. She liked the sunshine in Ridgway and wanted to be part of an upstart town, and Ouray was already well-established.
When building construction started, Baker again found herself fighting to get what she envisioned from the building. She said the male crew was all too eager to give “advice” to a single woman.
She had the bookstore addition built for a friend whose store was not getting the needed traffic off of the main road. The rent covered that portion of the mortgage, and the ice cream shop soon followed.
“Unplanned ownership of a stripmall is what happened,” Baker laughed.
Her building now features Lupita’s Bizarre Bazaar, Cimarron Coffee, an ice cream shop, a bike shop, two therapists’ offices, a massage place, a writer’s office and one apartment.
“It turned out good for them and good for me, too. We have the most wonderful family in this building,” Baker said.
The consignment shop’s name came after friends at a dinner party suggested the name Chipeta in honor of the famous Native American leader from the area.Baker, though, did not feel comfortable taking the name, so after another round of margaritas the group came up with Lupita, the made-up sister of Chipeta.
With the name Lupita’s Bizarre Bazaar, “I felt like I could do anything I wanted to in here, and I have — rubber chickens, Chinese antiques,” Baker laughed, waving a hand across a space full of fun packaged toys and hand-woven wool rugs from Mexico.
The store features the works of more than 100 consigned artists, from an 8-year-old girl to an 86-year-old man. Most of them are from the region, but there are works procured from all over the world, from gorgeous lamps made from locally sourced twisted juniper to unique African pieces and hand-embroidered silk shawls worn by flamenco dancers.
“Look what I am getting here in Ridgway!” Baker said while walking through her store.
“There is so much heart in this store.”
Baker said she felt welcome in the town from the very beginning, but the changes were not without growing pains.
“It’s taken a while for the town to accept the changes,” Baker said of the longtime residents who are still around and for whom she feels great respect.
Contributions to the town
Baker has volunteered for the town in various capacities over the years, mostly involving art.
Diedra Silbert, Ridgway’s community initiatives facilitator, called her a “cheerleader for the creative district” and “an amazing spokesperson for the community.”
Baker organized the first parking lot sale in Ridgway 25 years ago in an effort to give the town an activity in the slow times of spring and fall. Over the years the event has sold everything from sweaters and cars to a diamond ring and a sailboat. The sale eventually grew so large she handed it off to the Ridgway Ouray Community Council.
Ridgway Town Clerk and Treasurer Pam Kraft said Baker was one of the founding members of Public Art Ridgway Colorado, a group that procured the art gracing the town, from benches and bike racks to the sculptures displayed throughout the town, giving it its artistic vibe.
Baker also established Noel Night, a night of open houses in which local businesses all over town now participate.
“I had a lot of advice that I didn’t listen to and some advice that I was so thankful for, I mean, really thankful,” Baker said, reflecting on her successful career and the risks and challenges that got her — and Ridgway as a town — where they are today.