Longform

A Run for the Border

Page 7 of 13

"There wasn't a water-ski shop in Colorado," says Tommy, who still sells skis, wakeboards, boats and other water-sports supplies from Tommy's Slalom Shop, at Sheridan and 38th Avenue. "Most people say, 'Why here?' Well, the fact that there was nobody else here made it wide open for me." Tommy's "dream come true" is now a paradise for water-sports enthusiasts in landlocked Denver.

And as strange a sight as a boat and water-ski shop is on Sheridan, the store took off, especially after Tommy introduced the crowd at Sloan's to wakeboarding — which is like surfing in a boat's wake. In 1990, Tommy moved to his current spot further north because it was bigger, and he bought up the adjacent houses, too. He completed an expansion of the store in March.

"The boating community at Sloan's Lake has been very supportive of us," he says. "That is a very hard-core group. It's a higher level of boating skills and wakeboarding and water-skiing skills than you would see at Cherry Creek or Chatfield." In the mornings, there's usually a line of people who want to get the first run of glass — perfectly flat water. "And Sunday afternoon you'll see people there with their navigation lights on, anything to get that last two minutes of glass," Tommy continues. "They're glass junkies down there."

For years, Tommy would hang out on the shore at Sloan's with a peanut butter sandwich, a gallon of water and a ski, and he was doing that again last spring. "I'd just go shake hands and jump in people's boats and come back up here and ring the sales up — kind of old-fashioned guerrilla marketing," he says.

Walking through his store, Tommy blends in with the beach theme in a Hawaiian shirt and dark tan. He proudly shows off a boat line so technologically advanced, "it's from outer space," and so expensive he doesn't even own one. There's a wakeboard wall, a service shop, and a warehouse that supplies his Internet business. Outside, the egg-shaped lenses of Tommy's glasses darken into shades when the sun hits them. There is a T carved into a Superman-like logo on the side of his building — a testament to his large entrepreneurial ego, and one he feels is well-deserved. Younger generations don't work as hard, he says. Instead of taking off to travel the world, they should be saving and living below their means, like Tommy did on peanut butter sandwiches all those years.

— Jessica Centers

E-Z Pawn
Sheridan and West Colfax Avenue
3 p.m.

There's something gratifying in seeing the space-age welcome sign that Lakewood has erected at Sheridan and Colfax. It stands just in front of an E-Z Pawn — a branch of the Texas chain that threatens to muscle out the old mom-and-pops with plastic ubiquity, Starbucks style. To me, the sign says, "Bring me your tired, huddled masses yearning to trade their earthly possessions for a thirty-day reprieve from eviction, your addicts with power tools stolen from worksites down the block. This is Lakewood!"

I enter E-Z Pawn and head straight for the musical instruments. Sure enough, hanging on the wall in the back are a dozen or so Squire versions of the Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster, and the shelves to either side are stocked with turntables you could find on eBay for less. Elsewhere in the store, not much is out of the ordinary: A horse saddle and a collection of state flags priced at ten dollars each are the only interesting things I find. But just as I'm ready to conclude that E-Z Pawn has ruined the fun of pawnshops, a male clerk walks by in a woman's fur coat. It's a cheap one, dyed red, probably rabbit, and the sleeves end just above his wrists.

"Nice jacket. You gonna take that one home with you?" I ask.

"Nah. Sometimes I just put stuff on in the store. You'd be surprised at what I've sold right off my back," he says. One morning, he tells me, at the store where he worked previously, a biker came in and sold his beloved leather vest. The clerk put it on, wore it around work, and sold it by 3 p.m. that day.

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