A Boulder staple, when you think of The Hill, you can't help but think of The Fitter. In business for 40 years, Bonnie Dahl is the owner of one of Boulder's longest standing retail stores.
Bonnie, you've been in business and on The Hill for forty years, what was your best selling item then, and what is your best selling item now?
For the last 41 years, our best selling items have always been the pipes. The materials have changed over the decades, starting with the prevalence of wood, bamboo, metal, and stone. Glass pipes didn't even come onto the market until the early 90's. The "art glass" scene has become really popular just in the last 5 years or so. Our best selling items are still the pretty and colorful glass hand pipes, however, we specialize in our scientific glass tubes and rigs, as well as our wide variety of glass art pieces from national and local artists.
You and your sister took over the business from your brother 40 years ago. What does a 22-year-old girl taking over a pipe shop think to herself? What would you say to your 22-year-old self about business now?
Taking over a business to own and run at age 22 is a big challenge and learning experience, one that we probably didn't understand at the time. We were very naive and trusting and succeeded in the business despite our immaturity at the time. Any small business, especially retail, requires an owner to learn all aspects of business themselves, be it some accounting, advertising, marketing, HR, hiring and firing, sales, buying, pricing, cleaning, graphic work, etc. Etc. Etc. Today I would say to that 22-year-old self, work it hard, change when necessary, experience trial and error, and hire the right staff to support you. Retail is still an overall experience to "do the work" and go with the "flow of change." It is rewarding when things work but can be discouraging many times as well.
What are your favorite things about The Hill?
My favorite thing about The Hill is when the students are around and plentiful and it feels like there is energy on the streets and sidewalks. I still enjoy working with the student demographic after 40 years. The Hill has much potential, so I hold out for the future.
The Fitter's old location on Broadway--soon to be the home of the new Hill Hotel.
Has the legalization of marijuana changed the nature of your business, and if so, how?
Interestingly enough, the legalization of marijuana has not changed our business much. We have found that there is more competition that has come into the area, including glass pipes sold at rec stores and dispensaries, as well as gas stations now. The "pot tourist" hasn't really materialized on the hill much, except for the younger demographic. They tend to buy something cheap and temporary to use while they are in town. The Hill is not allowed to have any retail pot stores due to the 1000-foot rule across from the university.
Can you talk a bit about yourself and your background (where did you grow up, why'd you move to boulder, etc.)
My twin sister and I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, graduating from ASU in 1974. Our senior year of high school in 1970 we entered this industry, working at our brother's first headshop in Phoenix. He soon opened one in Tempe where we worked in college until a fire burned it down to the ground in 1972. We bought The Pipefitter in Boulder from our brother in March of 1975, once he had opened the Boulder store in 1973. We had rocky times in our decades of owning our business, especially when we were raided by the federal government in 1991 for selling "drug" paraphernalia. We settled with the federal government 13 months later after paying exorbitant fines and hefty legal fees. We also survived a bout with asbestos removal where we had to move out everything from the entire building for 8 days before putting it back. Every cost was out of our pocket at the time. In 2010 the building owner tore down our building that housed The Fitter for over 37 years on College Avenue until we found our current location on Broadway and Pleasant. We enjoy our new "hood" of The Hill.
The Fitter is now located at 1121 13th St, Boulder, CO 80302. Current hours (as of November 2022): Monday-Thursday 10am-9pm, Friday-Saturday 10am-8pm, Sunday 11am-8pm.