When Matt and Elise Holmes opened Vela Apparel on Highway 6 in Eagle-Vail last November, what had seemed like a specialty retail aberration officially became a trend. A few months earlier just next door to the Holmeses’ handsome boutique (headquarters of a lifestyle brand selling screenprinted T-shirts, hoodies, trucker caps, and throw pillows), Alexandra Gove and husband Koen van Renswoude had opened Hygge Life, a Scandinavian home décor store devoted to all things hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga”), the Danish art of “creating joy and coziness in life’s everyday moments.”
The summer before that, directly across the street, Becky Burgess had opened Vail Valley Wellness, a holistic spa specializing in acupuncture (as well as “yoni steaming,” a treatment to, ahem, “nourish your feminine essence”).
Mind you, a boomlet of hipster-chic businesses might not seem noteworthy in a resort community awash with purveyors of minks and gold baubles and $25,000 bottles of Bordeaux. But it is when it happens on Eagle-Vail’s Highway 6 commercial district—a lonely stretch of tired-looking strip malls catering to motorists shopping for new tires, wiper blades, collision repair, and, more recently, legal weed thanks to a proliferation of pot and vape shops following the adoption of Amendment 64 in 2012 (the strip, dubbed “The Green Mile,” remains one of the few places in the county where the sale of recreational marijuana is allowed). To this cluster of thirtysomething entrepreneurs, the Green Mile’s rep, and clientele, represents more of an opportunity than a liability.
“People see our sign and say, ‘We didn’t know what ‘hygge’ was and thought we’d found a new type of weed,” laughs van Renswoude. Jokes aside, the dispensaries lure a steady stream of curious customers with disposable income who otherwise would’ve driven right past the Dowd Junction exit on I-70 to spend their money in Avon or Vail. “If you’re in Edwards, you’re mostly serving locals, and in Eagle-Vail we have a chance to serve tourists, too,” says Vail Valley Wellness owner Becky Burgess.
On the downside, being located in an unincorporated community means there’s no town council to advocate for business-friendly infrastructure improvements like street trees, lower speed limits, crosswalks, or, for that matter, even sidewalks. But then again, there’s also no town sales tax, no expensive permitting process for events, more convenient parking, and the unique opportunity afforded to outliers, a.k.a., young pioneers. “That’s the thing about young energy coming in … we’re totally invested in this space and this community, and there’s a lot of cool businesses here beyond us,” explains Gove of Hygge Life (which plans to open an in-store café this summer), referencing established strip mall neighbors Fresh Tracks Pet Shop (where you can buy a certified organic loofah toothbrush to remove plaque from Fido’s canines) and Beaver Divers (“highest diving outfitter in the world,” a legacy family business that’s been teaching SCUBA and booking guided dive trips to exotic destinations from its Eagle-Vail address for 33 years).
“We’re the new wave.”