Since the 1980s, Ray Kitson has been running businesses in Salida, Colorado, including rafting, retail, and lodging businesses. In 2004, he sold all of those and started a restaurant called the Boathouse Cantina.
Kitson worked with others to form the Arkansas River Trust, which helped the community see the value of having a river corridor for recreation. Organizers teamed with the city, state and federal government on a series of grants, loans and self-initiated projects to clean things up and create a vibrant waterway that gave rise to sixty miles of gold medal water for fishing, rafting and kayaking.
When the Kitsons created the Bouthouse Cantina, support from their family as well as patience by employees and contractors contributed to surviving the first few years. Eventually, other improvements downtown drew more traffic to the restaurant, which today is thriving.
“We all saw the same vision,” Kitson said. “We knew that we could make it here. And then little things started happening.”
In this episode, we talk with Kitson about how the Arkansas River ties the community together and the work he and others did to improve the riverfront through town. (2:00)
He reminisces on how the economy was in the early 1980s after the mine in Leadville, about 60 miles away closed down (spoiler: it wasn’t good) (4:20), and he shares the key moments over the last 35 years that made Salida what it is today (7:00).
He talks about some of the most challenging experiences he had getting the restaurant off the ground and those that helped him along the way (9:15).
He shares how the community was able to have success, with various groups working on their own piece of the puzzle and how it organically came together (13:44).
He goes over how local government can help or hinder business growth (15:53).
And he talks about the benefits of providing above-standard pay to employees (21:43).