Bleachers clothing store hits the showers; economy deals fatal blow

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By Vicky Gits

For the last few weeks, customers have been walking into Bleachers Casual Clothing in Bergen Park with tears in their eyes.

It’s tough to say goodbye to a store that has been in business in virtually the same location for 16 years and where all the customers are like family members.

“I didn’t want to retire this early, but events are telling me otherwise,” said owner Dave Gleason, 65, who started Bleachers as a men’s wear store and soon added women’s wear. “I’m going to give retirement a try. I’d like not to be so consumed with work and being open six days a week.”

“Being in the retail business, I’ve always said we are in the front lines. Clothing is one of those feel-good, expendable-income type of things. When you cut back, it’s the first thing to go,” Gleason said.

“All of sudden last September, people who routinely would spend $600 at a time were spending $75 or $100. We really tried to control our inventory and expenses, but the numbers weren’t adding up. It was too precipitous a drop.”

It didn’t seem worth it to put retirement money into the business, so Dave and his wife, Terre, decided to close the store they founded together. The last day will be “somewhere around the first of April,” Gleason said.

Bleachers joins a long line of independents that have thrown in the towel in the last few years as retailers are forced to compete with big-box stores and other shopping opportunities on the fringes of Denver.

One customer said she thought people were shopping more outside of Evergreen this year because of the mild winter.

Bleachers is starting to look a little forlorn and empty these days. Even the mirrors and the art have price tags on them. Most of the tables and some of the garment racks are already gone. People mobbed the store the first couple of days after the closing announcement.

“You know your customers. You know people’s lives like you know your neighbors,” associate Jill Fockler, who has been working at Bleachers for 11 years, said as she wiped away tears. “We have a lot of men who don’t shop anywhere else.”

The Gleasons are like parents to the staff. “We call them Uncle Dave and Aunt T,” said Fockler. “We’re like their kids. We’re going down as a family.”

Fockler’s husband, a seismic geologist, was recently laid off, so they are going to start a consulting business together.

Kim Storm has been working at Bleachers for 12 years.

“We were all friends,” Storm said. “We went to everybody’s weddings and knew everybody’s families.”

Storm doesn’t know what her next career move will be.

“We tell people maybe we will just relax and get tans,” she said.

The beauty of Bleachers was it carried simple, sophisticated and timeless clothes perfectly suited to the Evergreen lifestyle.

Real estate broker Tupper Briggs doesn’t know what he will do without Bleachers.

“They had wonderful clothes that fit the Evergreen lifestyle,” Briggs said. “I hate shopping, and at first I didn’t want to talk to (Tom) when I went in there. But then he gave me wonderful advice about me and my lifestyle. It’s not like he wanted to sell me a lot of clothes. He’s special person.”

Diane Amdur of Evergreen was in disbelief when she heard the store was planning to close.

“I can be in and out in five minutes and always find something. This doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a true boutique, contemporary and fresh but comfortable. It’s real stuff. When I got the postcard, I was frozen,” said Amdur, who was cruising the sales racks Feb. 25.

Customer Peter Monson came in for the third time to buy enough to last him for the next five years, he hopes. “I hate going to malls and department stores,” Monson said.

What does he like about Bleachers?

“I know I’m not going to get a clunker,” he said, looking dapper in a new pair of wool trousers.

The Gleasons have lived on Upper Bear Creek in Evergreen for 20 years, ever since the Little Bear was known as the Red Ram. Tom Gleason has been involved in the men’s wear business since 1960 and Terre is the former fashion coordinator for all the Joslins stores in Denver.

They will probably leave Evergreen and move into a condo they own in San Diego County.

“We’ll be fine. Nobody should feel sorry for us,” Gleason said. “We met a lot of people and made a lot of friends and had a lot of fun. People have been saying the nicest things.”

Bleachers was named the Evergreen chamber’s business of the year in 2006, and Mountain Connection named it the best clothing store in the Evegreen-Conifer area.