by Debi Sporleder
WALSENBURG — When the old Hilltop motel came down and the huge lot was cleared off, Huerfano County residents waited with bated breath to see the new grocery store.
Now, as they begin their third year of serving the community, what do the owners of First Choice Market, Hugh and Denise Brown, have to say about why they came and why they settled in Walsenburg? “Walsenburg has so much to offer. The climate is perfect, it is beautiful country and I couldn’t be happier with our move to Walsenburg. We’ve always loved it here – it’s warmer in the winter and cooler than the Arkansas Valley in the summer – that’s a win win!” Brown says.
No matter where the Browns have been, they have always believed in community and service and have always worked to make a difference in a positive way and they are in Walsenburg to do just that. “You can’t change the temperature without moving the thermostat,” he says. Building the store moved the thermostat and really changed the temperature for Huerfano county residents. “Every day we are encouraged by the community’s appreciation of the store and the added value it brings to the community. The store name, First Choice Market, wasn’t by accident – it was ‘the plan’” said Brown.
The decor, the layout, and the theme of the store is designed to give Walsenburg and Huerfano county something to be proud of by displaying work from local photographers and showcasing the beauty of the Spanish Peaks region. “We have been told by customers, vendors, and other retailers that First Choice is the most beautiful store they have ever seen! I agree,” says Brown. “We can all be proud of it – there’s only one and it’s in Walsenburg!”
So what brought them to Walsenburg in the first place? Interestingly enough, Hugh’s great-grandparents ran a grocery store/service station in Gardner, on the current location of the Depot (recycling place). His mom was born above the grocery store in the living quarters. Because of health reasons, his grandparents moved back to Las Animas, where Hugh grew up. Also, his great-aunt and uncle ran the Redwing grocery store owned by the Bensons many moons ago.
Denise Brown’s family immigrated from France in the 1890s. Denise’s family got into the grocery business around the same time Hugh’s family was getting out of the business. Her father and grandfather were in the grocery business, and she started working for her dad pulling weeds in the grocery parking lot when she was six years old. Hugh worked in a grocery store when he was 15 as a stock boy. They met in Lamar when Denise was still in high school.
After they were married and had children, they were visiting this area and one of their two sons, Landon, commented that he would like to live “right here.” Today, Landon and his family live very near the spot where he made that comment.
It wasn’t only their family history in the area which brought the Browns to Walsenburg. They also saw a need for an updated, locally owned grocery store. Anyone can move to where something is happening and join in. The Browns, however, wanted to move here and make a difference. And they notice the difference they’ve made by the comments they hear every day about the benefits of shopping in their store.
Their son Landon and his wife Liz are also involved with the store and the community. Landon not only manages the store but also found the time to establish a fencing club for youth and adults who have an interest in the sport. Elizabeth is the Re-1 music teacher. They are so well liked that students are always looking for them in the aisles of the store.
Son Nolan and his wife Amanda, set aside their careers and joined the family during the start-up phase of the business in spite of the long commute from their home in Pueblo West. With the store now firmly established, the couple recently moved to Loveland, Colorado. Nolan is now pursuing his career in banking technology development, and Amanda is managing The Buckle clothing store.
Because First Choice Market is a locally owned small business, the Browns are able to recognize and invest in our community’s needs. They are approachable, committed to the community, and listen to the wants and needs of county citizens. “We have, by far, the largest item count and take customer requests for anything a customer wants us to carry. If I can get it, I will,” Brown says. They try to meet every need they see for the benefit of the community and the passerby – they even carry postage stamps and have recently added DVD rentals. Their newest addition to the store’s offerings are hunting and fishing licenses which are now available for purchase seven days a week.
First Choice Market co-sponsored the community Easter Egg Hunt on March 30th and have invested heavily in local youth programs, such as 4-H, FFA and El Fandango. “The next generation is what it’s all about,” says Brown. “I’m very optimistic about the future of Walsenburg. I appreciate it for what it was, is and can be. We all have a part in making our community a success by the choices we make, and thank you Walsenburg for welcoming us into your community and making First Choice Market your store.”
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