Colorado History

A Sticky Issue: Can a Non-Native Sell "Native" Bumperstickers?

A Sticky Issue: Can a Non-Native Sell "Native" Bumperstickers? (2)
Native Ink
First things first: Sandy Glade is not a native.

She was not born in Colorado, and is certainly not able to trace her lineage in the area that would become Colorado back to before 1858, when just about the only people here were true natives.

But she's stuck on the place just the same, and her family's move here in 1969 from Salt Lake City, when she was in sixth grade, inspired one of the most popular bumperstickers in the Native Ink line: "Not a native, but I got here as fast as I could."

Sandy's father was in the oil business, and he settled his family into a nice suburban house in Lakewood, on South Wadsworth Boulevard. It was there that Sandy's older brother, Eric, came up with the idea of making bumperstickers in the classic green-and-white Colorado license-plate design, with a silhouette of the mountains and the word "Native" in the center. By then, the family had lived in Colorado about a decade, which in the late ’70s certainly qualified you as a longtimer, if not a native.

Although there was some short-lived competition from the now-defunct Colorado Native Society, which was putting out similar stickers for members, Eric's model took off. Working off the success of "Native," he designed a number of related versions, then expanded the business, trademarking the concept in six states, including Colorado.

Sandy mostly watched from the sidelines. "I was about 22 at the time, with better things to do than get involved in the family business," she recalls.

In the ’80s, when the oil boom went bust, the bumpersticker business went dormant, and all the inventory was stashed in the basement of the family home in Lakewood.

There it sat for another decade, until the late ’90s. "I was getting pretty burned out on deals going south in real estate," Sandy remembers. The Broncos were headed back to town from a Super Bowl victory, so she and her son stuffed their pockets full of bumperstickers and went out to the airport to greet the team's triumphant return. The plane was delayed, and "my son and I just worked that crowd," she says.

Soon after, Sandy and her mother bought the business from other family members and worked it together. "I was just going to sell the bumperstickers until I figured out what I was going to do," Sandy says. "Twenty years later, here I am, still slinging vinyl. A desperate realtor goes from the most expensive commissioned product on the planet to bumperstickers."

Her mother passed away in September, and Sandy is just now cleaning the last of the line out of the house. "I have garage sales just so I can give away free bumperstickers," she says.

She long ago moved the actual business out of the basement and into wherever she happened to be living. "I operate it wherever I end up," Sandy explains. "I always office out of my home. In 2008, when things were real bad, I lived in my office."

For a while, when she was recovering from a car accident, she did move back into her mother's house. She doesn't remember if the other car had a bumpersticker, but she does remember what was on the bumper of her car when it sustained $13,000 worth of damage while parked outside the stadium during a Broncos-Raiders game: "Raiders suck."

"The whole trunk of my car was busted open when I came back from the game," she remembers.

Still, that wasn't the most memorable sticker sighting. Sandy was skiing up in Steamboat, on one of the most beautiful ski days of her life. "You were just in a dream," she recalls. "I'm going up this ski lift — way back in the clickety-click days — and I saw one of my stickers on another chairlift. Sure enough, it says, 'It's All Good.'"

And for the most part, it has been. Sandy has added some new sayings to the Native Ink line over the years, including 4/20-oriented slogans, "but the very first ones are still the most popular," she says. "Native," "Not a Native," "Broncoholic," "Fish Naked, "Happy Camper," "I Produce Natives."

Like her brother, she's had some scuffles with competition, and has had to sue the same company twice. "I won't even say who; it should be embarrassing to them," she says. "It's so much more pain than it's worth...we're talking a bumpersticker."

But a bumpersticker that's sold tens of thousands of copies and is certain to sell more as transplants continue to flood the state, which was just again named the top destination for millennials. "It's insane," Sandy says. "They're just going to keep coming, because it's a beautiful place to be."

And to keep it beautiful, she doesn't want to print any more angry or mean bumperstickers. After a foray into political slogans, she's gotten away from those, too. When a client asked her to print up "Don't Politicize Crazy," she refused. "It's just been a crazy year," she explains.

So for now, the focus is "just my fun, happy stuff that makes people happy when people get their 'Happy Camper' in the mail," she says. And she plans to stick with that.

"This whole transplant/native fight needs to stop. It just needs to stop," concludes Sandy, whose business has thrived on it. "We need to just laugh again. Remember what agree-to-disagree is. Whether you win or lose, shake hands, go away. Have a nice day."

Hey! That last line might make a good sticker.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun