Since 1952, an eclectic cluster of buildings on Washington Street near Interstate 76 has been home to Tymkovich Meats, as well as three generations of the Tymkovich family, who built two houses and a business on property that's now one of the few private patches in the area that hasn't been swallowed up by highways or industry. But after nearly seventy years, third-generation owner Tim Tymkovich is shutting the doors of Tymkovich Meats.
“We’ve watched people’s kids grow up,” Tim’s wife, Terri, says from inside the small, tidy space that represents a family heritage — and a classic American immigrant story — that started well before the current physical representation was constructed.
“I’ve raised families on our meat,” Tim adds. But the meat business is a grueling one, and Tim and Terri have decided to retire. They've already sold the property and will close their butcher shop on July 6.
Tymkovich Meats was established by Tim’s grandfather, William “Bill” Tymkovich, who emigrated from Ukraine at the age of fourteen with his mother, brother and sister in 1912. The children’s mother died on the boat and was buried in New York, leaving the siblings to find their way to Pueblo, Colorado, where their father was already working.
Bill found work and a trade in slaughterhouses and the livestock industry. In those days, immigrants took what work they could get and were glad to have it, Tim says, lamenting current efforts to keep people out of the United States and pointing out that it’s still the case that immigrants do jobs that others don’t want. “Who’s going to do those jobs?” he asks.
He’s leaning against the wall next to the meat case in the shop that’s lined with freezers displaying various cuts of meats and sausages. Spices and condiments are arranged neatly on shelves, and displays of different packaged wood chips are there for customers who smoke their own meats at home. The air is heavy with the smell of spices and smoke. Tymkovich faithful are treated to all kinds of smoked meats: ham, pork chops, turkey, salmon, several kinds of bacon, and many flavors of the shop's signature sausages.
Tim takes me back to see the smoker and the room where meat processing happens. It’s clean and scattered with a variety of stainless-steel tables and equipment, a rack of beef jerky and another loaded with smoked bacon. The smoker itself is surprisingly small and resembles a portable stainless-steel closet. A large walk-in is home to several carcasses dry-aging on hooks attached to tracks on the ceiling. Tim struggles with a heavy old wooden door to another walk-in, clearly original, where more packages of frozen meats are boxed and stacked. Another room is full of bulk spices and supplies for making sausage and rub blends. Tim confesses to being self-taught in the art of meat smoking.
The area wasn’t always industrial. The Welby neighborhood was settled in the early 1900s primarily by Italian immigrants and truck farmers. Bill Tymkovich and his Polish bride, Roselia (“Rosie” to the family), settled on a farm at 160th and Washington, plowing the ground with horses, raising cows and selling their milk, and eventually converting an old horse barn into a small slaughter facility. Bill did custom meat processing for local farmers, charging them six cents a pound to cut and wrap their meat. It was the 1940s, and all the while, Bill was making the trek to Denver to work in the slaughterhouses.
“He didn’t want to quit his job until the farm was paid for,” Tim points out. “He didn’t trust it.”
In 1951, Bill learned of a meat plant that was for sale; he bought it for $9,000, and the family business has been in the same spot ever since. The building has been added to and improved over the years, although a walk-up window where people could order meat is no longer there, covered over by a display of impressive-looking knives and blades that belonged to Bill.
Across the driveway from the store, Bill also built a small house for Rosie. It was the first new home she’d ever lived in. Tim says she cried when they moved in.
Tim’s father, Steve, eventually hired someone to build a second, larger home on the property so he could live in it with his family and be near his parents. Steve worked for a time as a federal meat inspector and helped cut meat in the store when needed, but most of his career was with the state employment office. Eventually, the family business was co-owned by Steve and his younger brother Willy, who took over the day-to-day operation of the business in approximately 1981.
“I don’t think my granddad intended for us to be here this long,” Tim notes. In reality, the family almost lost the business in the’'80s. Cub Foods and other discount mega-markets had just appeared, threatening many small businesses, including the Tymkovich’s.
By Tim’s own admission, meat cutting is brutally hard work. Willy was tired, and the brothers had a falling out over finances, but they eventually agreed that Steve would buy Willy out. Steve then approached his son and asked him if he wanted to try and resuscitate the family business.
“We were young and had two kids,” Terri recalls. “It was a scary proposition, but we decided to give it a go.” The couple relaunched the business as Tymkovich Meats in October 1986. In 1999, they remodeled the big house, adding bedrooms for their three children, and moved Tim’s parents to the small house.
Tim and Terri have known each other since junior high school, nearly their entire lives. Terri admits it took her a while to warm up to Tim, but “he won me over in ninth grade, and we dated through high school,” she says. The couple married in 1982 and had three children. They worked hard to bring the business back, and Terri has always handled the books and worked in the store when needed.
“The Compound,” as it was called by some, worked well for the family. Tim’s parents were there and kept an eye on the grandkids at their house, and they could “pop into the store whenever they wanted,” Terri adds.
As the kids got older, Terri took on more responsibility with the bookkeeping. Somehow she also found time to make pageant dresses for Miss Teen Colorado, had a small alterations business, spent some time painting murals, and ran a successful travel agency, all from home.
When the Internet came along, and social media after it, Terri’s responsibilities at the shop took more and more of her time. She eventually closed her travel agency to tend to books, payroll, ordering products, keeping the stock room in order and answering questions from customers on all the various social-media outlets. “There are so many ways customers use to contact us that it's practically created a full-time job in itself,” she explains.
And now the business has come full circle.
“The last fifteen years have been good,” Tim notes. For a time they processed game animals, but they haven’t had to do that for a while. They own the property, so there hasn’t been a mortgage for years, and there have never been many employees. Since taking over, Tim was pretty much “a one-man-show” until 2012, when he started hiring a few people.
They have been able to thrive by changing as demands have shifted. People want specialty goods, and Tymkovich has been happy to accommodate customers’ special requests or dietary requirements.
“People appreciate it when you go the extra mile for them,” Tim says.
It’s not just a good meat shop that will be lost when Tymkovich closes its doors. The store has been a gathering place for many over the years. City Park resident Charles Jones has been a regular customer since Willy ran the place. “Tim was a little bitty small kid,” he says with a laugh.
Jones remembers how he and a neighbor used to go in on a section of cow for $75 apiece back in the day, and raves about the current quality of the ground beef, but that’s not what’s kept him shopping there all these years. “The relationship, the people — that’s what it’s all about,” he points out. Jones and several others frequently meet at the store on Saturdays to hang around and catch up.
“He liked to work the room,” Tim said of Jones.
“We’d talk about everything,” Jones adds. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
“Go vegetarian,” his wife, Sara, jokes from the background.
“The quality of their products is amazing,” agrees Harry Gibney, who lives nearby and has been shopping at Tymkovich Meats since it opened. “I always try to shop locally, and local businesses are fading.”
To the faithful, distance wasn’t an issue.
David Ray lives in Brighton and looked forward to driving his ’68 Camaro on his visits to Tymkovich. “On a Saturday, it would be a nice drive,” he recollects. “Tymkovich is my number-one supply and source for barbecue,” he adds, noting that he was so devastated when he learned of the closing that he “almost had to go home from work.”
Consistent with other customers, Ray talks up the quality of the meat and the prices, adding that Tim is good about giving customers advice on how to cook a particular cut of meat.
“That’s what he loved to do. He wasn’t in it to make a killing,” Jones continues.
Tim started cutting meat when he was twelve and became a journeyman meat cutter at seventeen. For a time he worked at King Soopers and other stores, always learning more, but eventually he came back to the family business. His goal was to retire at 55. He’s 54. Check.
Tim shoves a hand deep in his jeans pocket and reflects for a minute. He admits that he doesn’t have a clear picture of the future. He and Terri have purchased a new home that looks out on the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri; they’re going there to be near Terri’s mom, and they have plans to travel. He feels sad about the decision to sell the place and move, because they’re the third generation on the property — but he's firm when he says, “I don’t want to die on this property."
He also laments that rising taxes and high land values have made it difficult for small businesses to produce enough to make it; Denver isn’t a small town anymore. “I know that when I get up in the morning and walk up the driveway, I smell exhaust and I hear traffic,” he notes, adding at the new house in Missouri, he can smell his coffee and “I don’t hear anything.”
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“My dad died telling me I need to slow down. This is the only way to slow down,” he concludes.
Before I leave, Terri hands me a small card with their new contact information. The address of their new home is appropriately located on Release Lane. I flip the card over to a picture of the front of their new home — a large house with an expansive deck surrounded by trees and steps down to the lake. I can almost hear the birds and smell the coffee.
Denver Concrete Works has purchased the land and buildings where they currently live, mostly as a place to park big trucks, Terri says. The new owners hope to rent the butcher-shop building to a game processor or another butcher, she adds, and will live in the big house while renting out the smaller front house.
Tymkovich Meats is located at 6911 Washington Street; it will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday until early July. Visit the butcher shop's website or call 303-288-8655 for more information.