Before April 1, 1989, the main sources for Colorado Springs business news were the city’s dailies, the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph (now the Gazette) and the Colorado Springs Sun, which folded in 1986.
But then two young entrepreneurs, Chuck Shelden and Roger Powell, decided business news was a market niche they could fill and founded the Colorado Springs Business Journal.
According to longtime columnist John Hazlehurst, neither editor Shelden nor advertising manager Powell had much newspaper experience, but they had optimism and enthusiasm.
Shelden and Powell set up shop in the DeGraff Building at 116-118 N. Tejon St., now home to Oskar Blues, and published their first issue on April Fool’s Day in 1989.
In an editor’s note, Shelden wrote: “We are a publication run by businessmen for businessmen. … Our feeling is that the outlook for Colorado Springs and El Paso County is extremely bright. Our philosophy is contrary to those who believe that our best economic times are behind us and that Colorado Springs is an economic ‘has been.’”
At that time, however, Colorado Springs’ economy was in the doldrums, Hazlehurst said.
The stock market crash of 1987 and the national savings and loan crisis that saw the meltdown of the industry in 1988 had hit the city hard, earning it the nickname “foreclosure capital of the United States.”
Nevertheless, the Business Journal’s first issue attracted advertisers including Add Staff, Central Bank, Chase Manhattan Bank, Cheyenne Mountain Conference Resort, Craddock Development, Griffis/Blessing property management, KVOR, Rosenbaum-Dean real estate and Rutledge’s men’s clothing store. A full tabloid size, the first edition had 20 pages.
The front page featured a story on the prospects of a proposed multiuse sports arena on two city blocks west of the Pikes Peak Center for the Performing Arts under the headline, “Arena: Down to the Wire.”
The Business Journal enthusiastically supported the $50 million arena proposal and published comments from business and community leaders who said the arena would help bring the city national and world attention. It also printed comments from an ad hoc opposition group, which claimed the project was too big and costly and an improper project for city government to fund.
(On April 4, 1989, voters rejected the proposal by a 70-30 margin.)
For its first year, the paper was published twice a month, but Shelden and Powell built it into a thriving 28-page weekly by 1993, expanded the staff to more than 15 and moved the paper to larger quarters at 31 E. Platte Ave.
“The Business Journal appears to have gotten off to a very successful start,” Hazlehurst said. Shelden’s “predictions of a booming economic recovery were absolutely correct.”
Through the 1990s, the paper prospered, along with the city.
CHANGE OF HANDS
In 1998, Shelden and Powell sold the paper to Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Dolan Media Group, which also published the Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group papers and Daily Transcript, as well as a score of other publications around the country.
“I think the reason was very simple,” Hazlehurst said. “They were offered a good price. I think they were a little tired of it too.”
Later in the Dolan years, Hazlehurst remembers being asked to mentor a reporter named Amy Gillentine, who had joined the paper in 2005, and remembers thinking she was a “better, more experienced reporter than I am.” (Gillentine went on to become associate editor, then editor of the Business Journal and then publisher and executive editor of the Business Journal, the Colorado Springs Indy and the other publications that have been a part of Colorado Publishing House.)
On May 23, 2008, the Business Journal published a 40-page issue with lots of ads and full color on the front and back covers and four inside pages. But then came the Great Recession.
“We weren’t diverse in our advertising,” Gillentine said. “When the crash happened, and liquidity dried up, it affected our sales dramatically. In addition, Dolan Media went public to raise money and essentially overleveraged.”
The paper survived largely on advertising revenue from banks, which were receiving stimulus money, but Dolan decided in 2012 to unload the Business Journal.
John Weiss, founder and owner of the Independent, was interested.
“John recognized that businesses are the lifeblood of the community,” Gillentine said. “Covering the business community was always something he wanted to do.”
Gillentine, a reporter at the time, said when Weiss acquired the Business Journal, “it really was a shot in the arm for us to be locally owned and made a big difference to the staff at the time.”
It meant that coverage focused more on the local business community and less on the national stories that Dolan had imported from its other publications.
The biggest change, though, Gillentine said, was that “we got an excellent editor in Ralph Routon.”
Routon, executive editor of the Independent and Fran Zankowski, CEO of the Independent (and now publisher
of the Boulder Weekly), took over leadership of the Business Journal in June 2012.
“Both of us thought that we would be dividing our time” between the two publications, Routon said, “but it didn’t really work out that way.”
Just a few weeks after the two moved over to the Business Journal, the Waldo Canyon fire devastated northwest Colorado Springs.
“It was all hands on board,” Routon said. Zankowski helped the Indy mount its award-winning coverage, while Routon focused on the fire’s impacts on the business community.
After that, though, Zankowski was instrumental in finding new sources of revenue for the Business Journal, focusing the sales team in a whole new direction.
Before Routon and Zankowski took over, Dolan had locked in the Platte Avenue office for a long-term lease.
“It was a nice location, but it was also very expensive. It was a couple of years before we could get out of the lease,” Routon said. In 2014, the Business Journal moved into the historic building at 235 S. Nevada Ave., the former United Brethren church the Indy had occupied since 2003.
“We were concerned about that,” Routon said. “A lot of people really wanted the Business Journal to survive and were happy that it wasn’t going to fold, but a lot of those same people were concerned about the Indy influence — whether Indy politics would creep into the Business Journal. The Business Journal wasn’t apolitical, but we could cover government without covering the politics.”
THE RIGHT IDEAS
The Business Journal covered a lot of important issues during Routon’s time as editor, “but it was less about individual stories and more about the group re-establishing,” he said. “It was about coming up with the right ideas for coverage on a weekly basis.”
The Business Journal focused on producing local stories and shone a spotlight on members of the business community who hadn’t seen much limelight before.
“We really emphasized writing about young professionals every week, trying to give recognition to younger people and women in business,” Routon said. “We thought they were underappreciated, and we wanted them to feel like the paper was there for them as much as it was for their bosses.”
It helped that the paper had a strong staff, including reporters Gillentine, Monica Mendoza, Amanda Miller Luciano, Marija Vader and Becca Tonn, and designers Mike Reid and Rowdy Tompkins.
The strategy worked. In 2013, the Business Journal won 16 awards in the Colorado Press Association’s annual Better Newspaper Contest, and the editorial sweepstakes for the most awards in its circulation category.
“That really validated all that we had been doing,” Routon said.
Another boost for the Business Journal: the addition of Jenifer Furda as associate publisher in August 2012. (She later became publisher, remaining on board
“She had worked for the [Colorado Springs] Chamber of Commerce for years, and she had really good relationships with people all through the business community,” Routon said. “She knew everybody.”
The Business Journal had been sponsoring events such as Rising Stars and Women of Influence, but after Furda’s arrival, “they moved up to a higher level,” Routon said.
Routon remained heavily involved with the Business Journal until he retired and took the title of executive editor emeritus in 2017.
As he was phasing down his role, Gillentine and reporter Bryan Grossman were taking on more of the day-to-day management, Routon said.
“Bryan was a key hire,” he said. “I remember the first interview with him, thinking that every once in a while, you interview somebody and you can see that this person could be somebody who has a bigger impact than what we’re talking about.”
Grossman became managing editor of the Business Journal in 2017, editor in 2018, and editor-in-chief of Colorado Publishing House, overseeing all of the company’s publications, in July 2019.
Helen Lewis, who joined the Business Journal in 2016 as a reporter, became associate editor in April 2019 and was promoted to managing editor that September. She become managing editor at the Independent as well as the Business Journal in early 2021.
I’ve been working with these talented people since October 2017, as well as gifted reporter Greta Anderson Johns and and brilliant designers Zk Bradley and Elena Trapp. It’s been my pleasure to get to know many of you in the vibrant and innovative business community and to tell your stories every week. We strive to provide you with the resources and information to help you do business better every day and to connect with one another.
The last issue of the Colorado Springs Business Journal as a standalone newspaper will be published Jan. 6. But rather than an ending, this is a new beginning, as we transform into a new format publication called Sixty35, which debuts Jan. 11.
Sixty35 will embrace the elements that have been covered in the Business Journal, Independent, Pikes Peak Bulletin and Southeast Express, plus military news, editorials and much more.
“Our business coverage will continue, and our commitment to the business community will remain unchanged,” Gillentine said. “We’ll still be connecting people through our events. And the biggest thing is that we’ll reach a much wider audience — we will go to tens of thousands of readers.
“And that will make a big difference for their individual businesses when word’s when getting out about what they’re doing, but also will build bridges between the business community and other segments of our city.”