A Colorado Legacy Continues
By Liisa Andreassen
It all started with a sneeze, or maybe a cough. You see, more than 100 years ago, Frank M. Light, an Ohio farmer, learned that he had asthma and had to find another way to support his family. In search of fresh air, he traded in a life of farming to put down roots in the then tiny town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He arrived via the Rio Grande Railroad, along with his wife and their seven children. He quickly saw a niche that needed to be filled.
Within seven months, a men’s clothier was opened for business – that was in 1905. It started with shoes, but it was clear that local ranchers and miners needed more. Sturdy dry goods were quickly added including jeans, boots, coats and overalls. A retail legacy was born.
Today, there are more gentleman ranchers around those parts, as well as tourists, hungry for a taste of the west. The inventory has evolved with the times. Customers will now find a mix of cowboy hats, boots, women and men’s clothing, kids’ clothing, toys, gifts and socks.
It’s all in the family
In 2012, the store was passed down to Lindsay Lockhart Dillenbeck – a fifth-generation owner and great-great-granddaughter of Frank Light. She and her husband, Chris, are now living what Lindsay says is her “destiny.”
“One of the things we’re most proud of is that we’re the oldest retailer of Stetson hats west of the Mississippi,” Chris says. “We also have a huge selection of boots – Dan Post, Lucchese, Ariat, Corral, Old Gringo, Justin, and Tony Lama to name just a few.”
When you take over a store that’s been around for 107 years, it’s pretty clear that things are working well. For Lindsay and Chris, the greatest challenge has simply been to keep business running as usual.
“We just didn’t want to mess things up,” he says. “The store has been run so efficiently and successfully for so many years, we had to work at making sure we didn’t do anything to stop it.”
Lindsay says that they still meet with her father, Ty Lockhart, every week to get his advice on what’s working and what isn’t. He has nearly 40 years’ experience and their buyer and receiver both have more than 20 years’ experience.
“It was more a matter of stepping in and getting out of the way,” Chris jokes.
The only major changes the couple have made to date is upgrading the computer and phone systems to current technology, and to make some minor changes like switching the lighting over to LED.
Currently, Lindsay handles all of the business’s advertising, marketing and promotions, while Chris handles more of the operational side.
Prior to taking over the family business, Lindsay attended Dartmouth, and then worked in the White House for Dick Cheney’s domestic policy office. She got her MBA at Pepperdine, followed by a real estate consulting job.
“From a fairly early age, I knew I wanted to be in the business,” she says. “My dad never pushed me to do it though.”
Chris attended Duke and then worked as a business intelligence consultant until he pursued his MBA at UCLA.
“By the time I started dating Lindsay, it was pretty clear that taking over the store would be our future,” he says.
Now that they’ve been on board for a few years, Lindsay says she really enjoys being able to give back to the community.
“F.M. Light & Sons has been part of Steamboat Springs for a long time, and I like working with the town and its many organizations,” she says.
Chris really enjoys being part of the store’s history.
“It’s basically been here since the town started,” he says.
Road sign success
A big part of F.M. Light and Sons’ history can be attributed to its somewhat infamous black and yellow road signs that dot local highways and direct travelers to the store in downtown Steamboat Springs.
“They picked the colors yellow and black so that the signs would stick out, which clearly works,” Chris says. “The colors have no other significance.”
Mostly, Chris and Lindsay are responsible for the signs’ upkeep which takes place each spring.
“Even though it’s straight forward, it’s quite labor-intensive,” Chris says. “We’ve figured that it takes about 30 minutes per sign if there’s a bucking horse on the sign, and two people lettering; 20 minutes per sign if there are three people lettering.”
At one time the store had 260 signs. Most of them went up in the 20s and 30s, so they’re closing in on being 100 years old. Today, there are still around 100 left. These are historic and officially registered with the state of Colorado.
The Future Looks Light
Lindsay and Chris plan to stay with their brick and mortar business for as long as possible.
“Currently, we don’t have an online business,” Chris says. “Selling cowboy boots and hats really does require customer service to ensure a proper fit; we’re hesitant to offer those products online as we wouldn’t be able to provide the level of service we desire.”
There are no major changes in store, just more of the same.
“Really, it’s just a matter of keeping a good thing going,” he says.