Town Story: Niwot

The town of Niwot is halfway between Boulder and Longmont. Actually, it’s halfway between a lot of things.

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Ambling into town, the wide main street and red brick storefronts give Niwot an unmistakably Old West character. If you came here just a few decades ago, you’d hear the clanging of iron and anvil coming from the blacksmith shop. But the blacksmith is gone, and it’s now the strains of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” that emanate from his former shop, which is now the home of Rockin’ Robin’s Retro & Resale.

The classic rock soundtrack comes courtesy of the free jukebox put inside the shop by Rockin’ Robin Abb, owner of the vintage clothing boutique that lives up to its motto “Bop While You Shop.” The store has the requisite fashions to pull off any look from film noir to disco, and its proprietress lends it a flair all her own. Abb’s everyday wardrobe flirts with the outrageous, and she seems determined to live up to the feisty demeanor associated with fellow redheads.

Abb started Rockin’ Robin’s more than a decade ago, following stints as a women’s rights advocate in Washington, D.C., and as an actor and stand-up comedian in Los Angeles (her showbiz career included a bit part in the short-lived Mel Brooks sitcom Nutt House and a bigger role in the film Killer Tomatoes Strike Back!). She started yet another career as one of Niwot’s biggest boosters when she realized that the best way for her business to succeed was to have the town succeed.

“Niwot’s kind of a secret, even though 80,000 people drive back and forth on the highway every day,” Abb said.

The trick is to let the rest of the state in on the secret. Working toward that end, Abb helped created a series of free concerts every Thursday in summer, which is now in its eighth year. Rock N Rails, as it’s come to be known, is put on by a cooperative effort of Ni-wot Prairie Productions, the Niwot Cultural Arts Association and the Niwot Business Association at the gazebo bandstand in Whistle Stop Park, right next to the train tracks and near an old caboose. Big-name Colorado musicians like Hazel Miller and FACE play there while the town comes to party with their neighbors. And it’s pretty much guaranteed that at some point in the concert, a train will pass by.

“Everybody freaks out and starts screaming and waving,” Chamberlain said. “The train honks its horn and the band figures out what to do – sometimes they shift into a train song.”

The railroad features prominently in the latest effort to draw in passing motorists with a roadside sign declaring “Niwot” and the slogan “Vintage Colorado.” The sign itself isn’t that unusual, but it’s crowned by an arch of artistically bent steel rails with wooden ties. Leading the push to get the sign installed was Tim Wise, owner of Wise Buys Antiques, down the street from Rockin’ Robin’s.

Wise has run the shop with his wife, Carrie, for 25 years – “a quarter of a century!” he laughs in mock boastfulness. That’s about the closest to self-importance you get from a guy who has played a part in just about every big project and event in Niwot for the last few decades.

“He doesn’t like a lot of attention, but he really deserves a lot of credit for getting things done,” Warren said of him.

Wise Buys is a holdover from Niwot’s 1970s incarnation as an antiques district, complete with a regular antiques auction that drew visitors from far and wide. The auctions continue at Diane Atwood’s Elysian Fields Auctions, about twice a month. The Wises’ store is the only antique shop left in town, but it’s going strong, doing strong business selling things like mantelpieces from 100-year-old houses.


THOUGH HIS OWN SHOP can be considered part of the old guard, Wise takes every opportunity to promote Niwot’s newer image as an arts center, with art galleries cropping up all over town in recent years. He collaborated on the sign project with Anne Postle, owner of Osmosis Art & Architecture and a leader of the town’s flowering art scene.

The art bug is infectious. Just a few years ago, Postle’s business was exclusively a residential architecture firm with an office on Second Avenue, but there was demand for gallery space for artists to show their work, so Osmosis turned part of the office into a small gallery.

“The architects in the office were excited about bringing art into our practice,” Postle said. “It’s grown from a small area in the front three years ago to where now the art is everywhere.”

And she does mean everywhere. Art is displayed on every wall and partition of the architects’ workspaces, and visitors are free to roam about, peering over their shoulders at the paintings and sculptures.

On the first Friday of every month, Niwot’s art galleries open up for a community art walk, a new tradition put on by the Niwot Cultural Arts Association. In May, Postle worked with the other galleries to organize the Why Not Niwot? art competition. More than 40 artists submitted Niwot-themed artwork displayed at 10 venues. The editor of Southwest Art Magazine judged the contest, naming Dawn Buckingham Goldsmith the winner for her painting “Whistle Stop Sunset.”


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