Ore Cart Rock Shop Celebrates 40th Anniversary
May 14 marked the 40th Anniversary of the Ore Cart Rock Shop located at 119 W. Elkhorn. Although the store has quadrupled in size over the years, the location has remained the same. The store’s logo from the first day has been ‘Unique Gifts Utilizing the Natural Beauty of Stone,’ which is a good description of their product line. They offer everything from a 35 cent tumbled stone for the kids to fossils and decorator items costing hundreds and even thousands of dollars. The same can be said for their jewelry, which ranges from moderately-priced pieces containing natural stones upward to those fashioned from gold nuggets. Owner Jim Hull states, “We have built our business on three simple principles: quality products at a fair price with excellent service. I think this is the reason we have so many repeat customers.”
In 1972, Jim and his wife, Betty, were living in Littleton. Betty was a Librarian for Denver Public Schools and Jim had just graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in Business Administration. He says, “I had been accepted into Grad School, when I had a change of heart. I believed an MBA would probably involve accepting a job with a large corporation out-of-state. Betty and I love the mountains, and found we were unwilling to leave them, so I started looking for a business. My closest friend had a rock shop in Georgetown, and I thought one could work in Estes Park as well. As luck would have it, that very week I came to Estes in search of a possible location. Mrs. Vera Poling had decided to rent a part of her building on Elkhorn, and a ‘handshake’ deal was struck on the spot.
We’ve been there ever since. Mrs. Poling was a wonderful landlady. We operated on that handshake for many years until my lawyer convinced us both we needed a lease.” Jim related with a smile that he came home that first evening and told Betty he’d rented a space on Estes Park’s main street to start a rock shop, and she nearly had a stroke. She reminded him that other than a couple of geology courses in college, he knew nothing about rocks. Jim says, “I had to agree with her, but I knew about business and I was good with people, and I told her I could learn about rocks. So, with $5,000 of borrowed money, the Ore Cart was born.
And, did I ever learn about rocks! I taught myself how to cut and polish the stone for our popular bookends as I couldn’t yet afford to buy them already finished.” Evidently, for the first few years Betty, although supportive, remained a bit skeptical. Most mornings Jim left the house before 7 a.m. and didn’t return until well after 10 p.m. She also learned the owner is the last guy to be paid, and in those days, sometimes things were a bit thin. “Over the years,” Jim continued, “we expanded to Vail, Breckenridge and a second store in Estes Park. This wouldn’t have been possible without wonderful employees.
It probably sounds trite, but I believe your people are your best asset by far. I hesitate to mention names for fear of leaving someone out, but some just jump out. Lennie Young, who was well-loved around town, worked for me for many years. Her son, Mark, was with me for 15 year and probably still would be had he not tragically lost his life in an automobile accident. Don Miller retired as a geologist and dropped into the store 16 years ago, looking for a part-time job. Don is still with me. Missy Bolin started with me as an Estes Park High School student in 1999 as summer help, and after two college degrees still drives to town to help us out on weekends. My manager, Dena Bohn, has been with me for 26 years now. From the day she walked through the door in 1986 looking for a job, she has been a significant part of our success. Moreover, she and her husband, John, have become great personal friends.
And, those are just a few people in our ‘Ore Cart family.’ It’s so heartwarming to see young families come into our store and hear the mom explain to the kids that this is where Mom worked in college.” By the end of the 90s, the Hulls had sold their other stores and had built a home in the North End. Jim says, “I can truly say we love this community. Is it perfect? Of course not, but I know in all our travels, we’ve never found a place we like more. “After 40 years of owning the Ore Cart, I have no plans to retire. I live where I want with the woman I love, and I look forward to going to work every day. It just doesn’t get any better than that!”