Souvenir Store in Colorado Springs Mall Gives Customers a Trip on Memory Lane | Subscriber content

This is part of an occasional series featuring small businesses in the Pikes Peak area.

Marilyn Monroe. John Wayne. Elvis Presley. Betty Boop.

For people of a certain age, it really is a trip down memory lane.

But memorabilia from Memory Lane, a nostalgic store at The Citadel Mall in Colorado Springs, appeal to all ages, says owner Dave Steele.

“It’s amazing,” he says, “the number of young people – even 10 or 11 year old girls – like Marilyn Monroe, they love Elvis.”

And Memory Lane’s collectibles – from coffee mugs and posters to action figures – aren’t all about long-lost celebrities. There are items to appeal to gearboxes, sports fans, comic book collectors, music lovers and more.

“Everyone is different. Everyone has their own collection that they are passionate about,” says Darlene Aragon, store clerk and sole employee of Steele, although they see each other as partners.






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Posters of Marilyn Monroe and other stars of the past hang on the walls of Memory Lane at the Citadel Mall in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)




An entrepreneurial spirit

Steele, 78, says he’s always had this entrepreneurial spirit, this desire to have his own business. But he sidestepped that dream at a young age, instead turning to banking after graduating from high school and over the years he became vice president of banking.

This career began in Ohio. But after a brutal 1977-1978 winter in northern Ohio, he decided he wanted to go elsewhere. With the help of a headhunter, he searched for jobs in San Diego, Los Angeles and Phoenix. With encouragement from a friend, he also took a look at Colorado Springs. And while it wasn’t exactly the winter escape that other towns would have provided, he chose the sources.

He stayed in the banking industry for about ten years, then decided he had had enough. So he ended his 26-year banking career and bought a bunch of ATMs.

“I went to Denver with a 26-foot truck, got 16 vending machines, brought them back and put them in my garage,” he says. Then he distributed them to various places and collected the profits. After three years, however, he grew tired of the business and sold it.






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There are a lot of items in Memory Lane that could provide a man cave decor.




Craft stores and antique malls were important back then, he says. So he turned an old furniture store on Garden of the Gods into a new business, Colorado Country Craft, featuring dozens of artisans.

“I put an ad in the newspaper and I said, I have a store here. If you’re a craftsman, I have 175 seats. I got 300 calls in a month.”

It was there, he says, that he learned the ins and outs of retailing. After four years, he moved to the Westwind Marketplace at the Garden of the Gods and Centennial Boulevard to open a more traditional store that would be a precursor to Memory Lane.

And then the mall came knocking.

He told mall officials he couldn’t pay the rent, but they negotiated a deal that he would give the mall a percentage of its sales.

In October, Memory Lane celebrated its 20th anniversary at the Citadel – sort of. It all started with a different name, the gift box, and a different location in the mall before a few moves and her name change.

Change over time

The store has also gone through other changes over the years. A poster store at the mall closed six or seven years ago, Steele says, so he started selling posters and they were popular.






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“Retired” Beanie Babies are on sale at Memory Lane at The Citadel Shopping Center.




Sometimes he was at the forefront of trends; along with its precursor of Memory Lane, it was one of the first retailers in town to offer Beanie Babies, which were a major fad in the 1990s; he still sells “retired” Beanie Babies in Memory Lane.

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A perhaps surprising source of income: he sells snacks and drinks as part of a mini-convenience store within the store; that provides about 20% of his profits, he says, supported by both customers and coworkers who don’t want to go to the food court.

“I still call it our bread and butter,” says Aragon, who notes the low prices of these snacks and drinks. “If they spend $ 3.50, people are amazed at what they get. “

These prices are in line with the rest of the store.

“I keep my prices reasonable,” Steele says. Probably the most expensive items he carries, he says, are signs reminiscent of neon signs but with LED lights; they sell for around $ 30.

Memory Lane is one of the mall’s longer-lasting anchorless stores; Steele saw dozens of other small stores come and go.






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Memories of John Wayne at Memory Lane.




“You have to have your niche,” he says. In his case, he’s looking for things that no one else has. “It’s kind of who I am.”

Customer demand also feeds its inventory.

“I listen to my clients. If someone comes in and asks if you have this or that, if I get a few more requests, I’ll try.… I’m always looking and trying different things to see what might sell.”

Steele has also seen the mall undergo several ownership changes over two decades. Despite doomsday predictions about the future of shopping malls, he says the Citadel’s vacancy rate hasn’t changed much over these years and foot traffic is still good.

Aragon worked with Steele before the mall days. In Memory Lane, she has a corner she is responsible for and filled it with collectible cards, old magazines and books, comic book memorabilia and more.

Aragon does a lot of antiques to find items for his corner. “I find it in real estate sales or I go looking for these things,” she says.

Steele, however, does most of his inventory research online. Gone, he says, are the days when salespeople called on him; it’s just him and his Chromebook.

Of course, online competition also arises.

“I even tell people, if there’s something I don’t have and they’re looking for it, I tell them to go to eBay. You might be able to find it. I’m very sympathetic to them. clients, I love helping people. They will remember me and come back. “

Pueblo and Denver malls have asked him to expand their business. But at his age, he has no desire to build an empire.

“I don’t have to do this,” he said. “I do it because I like it. I like the contact with people, I like to keep busy.”

But he is still, of course, a businessman.

“I’m making money,” he said. “If I didn’t make money, I wouldn’t.”

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