Mickie Lewis-Gemici stepped into the role of regional director for SE Colorado’s SBDC on July 15, 2019 and Jeff and Adam Rumpf (an uncle and nephew duo) walked in the same day. Their original business idea was an Italian family restaurant that would bring a bit of east coast Italian to the SE Colorado region. Several meetings, business plans and multiple economic development conversations helped them flesh out what they were truly hoping for in their family business idea, bringing the community closer together while creating something that would become deeply rooted in the small rural city. Instead of focusing on one single business and the challenges of coming in from outside the region, SBDC and Otero County/La Junta economic development helped Jeff and Adam connect with a large section of the historic Opera House block on Colorado Avenue.
A local business owner was trying to work through exiting business ownership, while ensuring the continuation of several businesses on the block connected to her property. In the center laid an empty store-front perfect for a restaurant. The Rumpfs shifted their plans by considering taking on the roles of “possibility” development. Instead of focusing on one business that didn’t exist yet, they invested in almost an entire block of businesses that already existed. They became the proud owners of The Lighthouse, the only bookstore in La Junta, the Opera House Pharmacy, the only privately owned pharmacy and the Opera House Barbershop, a shop that has over a 100-year history. Above the shops are six residential apartments with built in china cabinets, murphy beds and caste iron tubs. In the middle of this is the future storefront for their originally planned restaurant, which will open in Spring 2020. With a bit of sweat equity and investment in possibility, they aren’t simply investing in the community, they are part of the community. This is more than a story about opening a business or finding a prime investment; this is a story about community impact and creating a legacy with a simple shift from opening a business to answering the question of how do I become part of the community I’m serving.
Before Jeff and Adam reopened the barbershop, they made repairs in The Lighthouse bookstore. Ginny now beams from behind the counter and no longer worries about her ability to maintain a staple community business. The Opera House owners lost their son who would have someday taken over the management of La Junta’s only independent pharmacy and the Rumpfs were the first to arrive, supporting the family during this challenge time. The Barbershop was repurposed and all the original fixtures were rehabilitated, bringing it back to its’ original feel with two career barbers and straight razor cuts complete with weekend gossip and talk about the next big sports event. The apartments are becoming part of the salary packaging for at least one of their employees, creating added value to what normally is a lower salaried position and ensuring the employee has a stable home.
The business traffic for the block is the same but growing every day and everyone is waiting anxiously for the opening of their restaurant, which will make use of the rooftop terrace for dining and watching parades. Jeff and Adam began as outsiders with money and a business idea; today they are the creators of a future for Colorado Avenue in La Junta Colorado. They’ve saved jobs, created jobs, invested in the community and become the type of landlords that everyone hopes for when renting. Guaranteed, the day they open their original restaurant concept the community will be there for them, reinvesting in them as business owners.