Made in Colorado: Dolls, Decadent Desserts and More
A diverse assortment of locally produced goods
While studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, Heather Mullins started repurposing materials into furniture about five years ago. She came across a pair of skis and made a table, but realized they were an even better material for earrings. “The scraps from the skis were the prettiest scraps I’d seen,” Mullins says. “The insides were really interesting.”
When the Evergreen native returned to Colorado in 2014, she had a steadier supply of old skis, and a better market. “In Chicago, people didn’t really care they were made of skis,” she says.
In Colorado, they do: Mullins is a part-time professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver, but the jewelry has emerged as a full-time gig. About 25 stores sell her earrings, necklaces and coasters; belt buckles are in the works.
“I can get about 500 pairs of earrings out of a ski,” she says. “The profit margins are pretty good — I just have to keep going.”
Most Products: $20 to $40
Retail Location: Denver
Ray Mueller has always been a video game nut. He had the worldwide high score for Gravitar in the 1970s, then started collecting games in 2000. “I had to learn to fix them because you can buy them a lot cheaper when they’re broken,” Mueller says.
He later sold off his collection and used that skill set to partner with woodworker/programmer John Gerlach to craft replicas of vintage Galaga, Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man cabinets and cocktail machines, with built-in emulators that allow nostalgic gamers to play more than 60 classic games.
After delivering more than 50 games in peak gift-giving season, Mueller takes on custom projects and restorations. “Occasionally people want Tron or Star Wars. You can’t put that into a multi-game cabinet,” he says. “I’m up for whatever you want to do.”
$1,500 and Up
Retail Location: Erie
Lee Mathis is a salesman — or “schmoozer,” as he likes to say — and a chef. After the New Jersey native moved to the Western Slope, he came up with Cheesecake in a Jar as a comeback to a joke in 2005. “It kind of took off,” Mathis says. It now comes in 17 flavors ranging from Key Lime Habanero to Caramel Macchiato. Mathis’ favorite is The Boardwalk, with peanut butter, chocolate and taffy from the Jersey Shore. “It is just so good,” he says. “I like doing things that bring back memories for people.”
After sales dipped with the economy in 2008, Mathis focused on Colorado. It paid off. “We’re expecting the best year we’ve ever had by about 50 percent,” he says. In 2015, Decadence started making his regional recipe for the Southern delicacy of Chow Chow (with hot peppers and tomatillos), and is set to unveil five new products in 2019.
$5 to $10
Retail Location: Grand Junction
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Viola Hale grew up in Poland “watching my mom and two older sisters sewing, crocheting and knitting,” and she followed suit. She moved to the U.S. in 2000 and came to Colorado for the skiing in 2008, the same year she put her first doll up for sale on Etsy. “I sold it the next day,” she says.
A decade and about 1,500 dolls later, Hale continues to make whimsical dolls, toys and mobiles, often crafted from wool and cashmere sweaters Hale buys at local thrift stores and eBay. “The dolls are the most popular and very close to my heart,” she says. “It’s been a journey.”
$29 to $299
Retail Location: Carbondale