Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. We have several Hollywood images of what happens when a successful developer takes over a small town business center. There is Bedford Falls, in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a pleasant village that is turned into Pottersville, a hotbed of casinos and bars when the property falls into the hands of a greedy, ruthless businessman in a fantasy sequence.
Another cliché is the developer who razes family homes and small businesses to construct beige condos by the hundreds, or high rise office buildings.
There are also the good guys, the developers that do not want to demolish what exists, but endeavor to improve and add onto what is good, what works, while bringing in additional businesses to guarantee sustainability.
Nederland residents and business owners hope that Stephen Tebo, who now owns the Nederland Shopping Center, is part of the latter group. Given his personal and business history, Tebo appears to be the shot in the arm that the shopping center has needed for years.
The founder and owner of the Tebo Development Co. was born in 1944 in Hill City, Kansas, a town about the size of Nederland, In 2010, there were 1,474 people there; 91.2 percent white. From an early age, it was apparent that Tebo was a doer, a go-getter, someone with a passion for moving forward.
When he was eight years old, he shined shoes at a neighborhood barber shop. And when he was 11, Tebo became passionate about collecting coins. Born with an innate business sense, Tebo turned his hobby into a coin collecting business which grew during high school and was used to pay his tuition at Fort Hays [Kansas] State University.
When he graduated in 1967, Tebo took his coins and moved west, with the Rocky Mountains on the horizon. He settled in Boulder and opened Tebo Coin, which grew into a successful business he sold in 1978 and which is still open.
While he was getting settled in the coin shop, he found there was a dearth of display cases. In 1968, research led him to a display case manufacturer in Madison, Wisconsin. The cases were what he wanted, but the company was not able to distribute the cases to Colorado. Tebo saw opportunity, the potential to turn a need into a viable business, and by 1972 he was the largest distributor of the Wisconsin display cases in the US.
Stephen Tebo’s Coin and Store Fixtures businesses were amazingly successful but outgrowing their walls. He needed 4,000 square feet, so he decided to construct a 10,000 square-foot building, rent 6,000 square feet to other businesses, and let the rent money pay for the building. Simple, but an ingenious business move.
Not only did the development work for Tebo, it also instilled in him the joy of investing in commercial property and making it successful for himself as well as the local business community. Now there are Tebo signs all over Boulder, advertising his many developments in the city.
Last week, Tebo came to Nederland to talk with the shopping center tenants, to get a feel for what is working in the shopping center and what might do better elsewhere. It was a chance for the tenants to plead their cases and try to keep their spaces.
He said he has always had an interest in Nederland. “Forty years ago I learned to ski at Lake Eldora and my son and I still ski there. I also have a getaway in Missouri Lakes and I have known the Guercios, previous owners of the shopping center, for a long time.”
Tebo says he sold Nature’s Own owner Roy Young the display cases for his geodes and jewelry and fossils. Of the six businesses Tebo has started, all of them are alive and well and still making a profit.
He took over the Aspen Athletic Club and it is now up and running strong and healthy. He says his success is due to working harder, putting in longer hours and, most important, treating the customers right.
“I hope the tenants here will look back and say, ‘he did the right thing, beyond just the positive impact on his pocketbook.'”
The idea to buy the shopping center arose about a year ago July, when Tebo and center owner Jim Guercio were having dinner and Guercio told him, “You need to buy the shopping center. It needs help.”
After many trips up the canyon, the project came to the table and six months later it was a done deal. Tebo closed on the property. His intent is to have good, long-term tenants who provide a service needed in the community. He goes further with that policy, saying “I bring the ability to have tenants who work well together for a positive, viable business. I own 200 properties, but I am still more Kansas than corporate.”
Tebo says the shopping center will be all about family and community, not just the bottom line of money. “Ultimately, if you do a good job, you get paid for it. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be paid.”
Historically, Tebo has been involved with community non-profit organizations. In a warehouse in Longmont he has a collection of more than 100 vintage cars, all of them over 40 years old, including the hearse the carried John F. Kennedy in his memorial ceremony. Six times a year he opens the doors to the warehouse, allowing non-profits to invite donors to view the otherwise cloistered collection.
Tebo says he plans to upgrade many facets of the shopping center, making it the hub for town activity. He is having engineers study the parking lot to remedy the drainage problem. Before that is fixed, however, he will install all new LED lighting in the parking light. He promises mowed grass and no more potholes. He says the first part of the renovation will take place in the next 60 days.
“Then I will have an exterior architect bring the shopping center into the 21st century. It will be an upgrade, but will remain mountain-friendly. Budget is always an issue. The shopping center has been losing money and we must prioritize what is most beneficial to the tenants. My mantra is, there has to be sacrifice today to make things better tomorrow.”
Tebo says he will make every effort to keep every viable business now residing in the shopping center. He says some of them are thinking of expanding and at least one new business, an eye doctor, is moving in. He will honor all previous leases and then review options when the leases are up. He says there will be increases in the rent, but they will be small.
Meanwhile, residents and shopping center business owners are waiting and watching to see what changes will occur and how they will be affected by the new ownership. Tebo’s track record is positive and shopping center tenants hope they will included in the future plans of the new owner.