The ultimate Colorado gift guide: 21 ideas from businesses based in the Centennial State

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You blinked and it’s December.

A very unfamiliar kind of December given current times. The holidays are a journey into the vast unknown this year, with smaller gatherings or no gatherings at all. Finding the perfect gift for a loved one might be more important than ever this year.

It also feels important this season to buy gifts from local and Colorado small business owners, who might be feeling the hard pinch of a pandemic- plagued world.

Hats by HEC Studio

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You can buy one of Sarah Haske Buchanan’s pre-made hats or customize your own.

Description: Ten years ago, Buena Vista native Sarah Haske Buchanan hit a rough patch. She turned to her sewing machine for comfort and gave birth to eclectic, colorful, creative canvas hats. You have two options: Purchase a pre-made hat from her online shop full of trucker hats, beanies, fullback hats, visors and more. Or customize your own style with colors, one of her designs, such as mountains, waves or cactus, or one of your own choosing.

Colorado connection: Buchanan first made hats aboard an old 40-foot school bus she revamped into off-grid housing. Nowadays she works out of her home in Fairplay.

Price: $30 and up; hecstudio.com

Clay by Nature Pottery

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Divide-based artist Deb Hager creates functional and beautiful pottery. Courtesy Deb Hager

Description: Artist Deb Hager creates functional and gorgeous pottery, including mugs, plates, bowls, vases and more. She makes her own glazes and hand-paints her pieces, often with dragonflies and calla lilies. She also makes sgraffito pieces by putting down one surface, covering it with another and then scratching the top layer to reveal parts of the bottom layer. These are hand-drawn, hand-carved and hand-painted before being fired in a wood or soda kiln.

Colorado connection: The Divide-based artist once worked as a potter for Van Briggle Art Pottery in Colorado Springs, one of the oldest active art potteries in the U.S. In 1999 she formed her own business.

Price: $19 and up; claybynature.com

Pet portraits by Tracy Miller

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Colorado Springs artist Tracy Miller calls her style contemporary Western expressionism. Courtesy Tracy Miller

Description: The pet lovers on our lists can never have too many photos of their beloved fur babes. How about taking it a step further and commissioning a painting of their sweet mugs? Miller calls her style contemporary Western expressionism, and it’s colorful, bright and eye-catching. Email her three images of the pet and she’ll capture the animal’s spirit in one-of-a-kind, acrylic paint glory.

Colorado connection: Animals of the West are at the heart of the Colorado Springs artist’s work. It stems from growing up with horses and exploring the Colorado mountains with her dad.

Price: $200-$850; hello@45degreegallery.com, 45degreegallery.com/product/tracy-miller-custom-pet-portrait, tracy-miller.pixels.com

Winter Session bags

Description: Step aside, Louis Vuitton. A Denver bag-maker makes much more affordable, sturdy, classic-looking canvas carryalls, backpacks, travel day bags and more. Carryalls, crafted with vegetable-tanned leather handles attached with solid brass rivulets, have plenty of pockets to catch all the day’s detritus. Backpacks are made from waxed cotton canvas and come with a quilted back panel padded with foam so even if you wear it all day, you could possibly avoid an aching back and sore shoulders. Adjustable leather straps will darken over time.

Colorado connection: Husband and wife Roy Katz and Tanya Fleisher founded the company in 2010 and make a wide range of unisex and carry goods with their team in a storefront workshop in Denver.

Price: $139-$389; winter-session.com

Colorado Restrung

Description: Mike Madden found a way to give unwanted, broken and used acoustic, electric and bass guitar strings a new life. He’s turned them into beautiful pieces of jewelry adorned with natural stones, including tiger eye, snakeskin jasper, sodalite and turquoise. The strings are twisted and turned into necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings. He also accepts used guitar string donations.

Colorado connection: Madden, a Durango-based counselor at a middle school, intuitively began braiding his old guitar strings about a decade ago as he changed them out on his instrument. He used a technique from way back in his childhood, when he would braid licorice into edible bracelets.

Price: $10 and up; colorado restrung.com

Precision Peaks

Description: These are trophies for the peak bagger, remembrances for the climber past his or her prime, mantelpieces for the all-around mountain lover. Blocks of beetle-kill timber are carved by a computerized laser to re-create the topography of Colorado’s beloved summits above 14,000 feet.

While reputed for the fourteeners, Precision Peaks offers much more. Gifting to someone with a favorite range? A favorite national park or ski area? See what you can get through a custom request online.

Colorado connection: The business operates out of a man’s home overlooking mounts Elbert and Massive. If you’ve ever stopped in Leadville’s City on a Hill coffee shop, you’ve admired Peter Frykholm’s creations on display.

Price: $30 and up; precision peaks.com

Flatirons Pepper Co.

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An array of chicken wings flavored with an array of blends by Flatirons Pepper Co.

Description: It started with pizza and a dash of subpar red pepper flakes.

“We started to question why there was so little care given to the flavor and freshness of pepper flakes,” reads the story on flatironpepper.com, as told by Mike Chen and Matt Lenore.

The two are now proprietors of Flatiron Pepper Co., which promises “you’ll never go back to generic red pepper flakes.” The company seeks to honor Colorado’s colorful chiles with a wide variety of blends that span the palate.

Colorado connection: The company name is a nod to Boulder’s iconic landmark. But Chen’s and Lenore’s red pepper flake epiphany occurred at Denver’s SliceWorks, which, yes, has tabled Flatiron Pepper in recent years.

Price: Individual blends starting at $8, bundles $25 and up

Hats of the West

Description: Western movie fans can live out their imaginations by donning a hat in the fashion of the stars of the day. Tom Hirt is credited for the cowboy hats seen in “Tombstone,” “The Quick and the Dead” and “Conagher” — his past clients including Val Kilmer, Sam Elliot and Sharon Stone.

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Tom Hirt uses steam to mold one of his handmade beaver skin hats at his home shop in Penrose.

Oh, and Hirt keeps a thank you letter from Ronald Reagan. “I appreciate your special thoughtfulness,” the then-president wrote.

Hirt continues to delicately hand make every hat in an old style, using beaver felt.

Colorado connection: Having learned the craft in Colorado Springs in the late 1970s, Hirt now operates from his ranch near Penrose.

Price: $370 and up; hatsofthe west.com

Meier Skis

Description: Meier Skis aims to provide ideal buoyancy beneath your feet as you glide down a snowy mountainside — and you can feel environmentally responsible doing so, the manufacturer pledges. Skis and snowboards are made with trees harvested from Colorado forests. Other renewable goods are used in the process, complete with vibrant graphics inspired by Colorado’s spirited outdoor culture. Signature to Meier, the natural wood factors prominently in the aesthetic. Customers can create their own designs ordering online.

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Stan Watkins drills a snowboard for binding inserts at Meier Skis. The skis are made in Denver. Tuesday, November 28, 2017. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Colorado connection: Meier’s “craft skiery” is tucked in a Denver industrial zone, prior to the pandemic serving as a gathering place for powder hounds to swap secrets and sip local beer.

Price: Skis starting at $995, snowboards $795 and up; meierskis.com

Big Agnes

Description: Twenty years ago at America’s top outdoor industry convention, Bill Gamber showed off a sleeping bag he invented after sleepless nights in the backcountry: one with an integrated, inflatable sleeping pad, so the pad wouldn’t shuffle away under the bag.

Since then, Big Agnes has gone on to be a leader in innovation when it comes to wilderness slumber. Tents have joined the product line, offering the same comfort, light weight and durability that gave the sleeping bags their fame.

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Big Agnes calls the Diamond Park sleeping bag “incredible cozy and versatile.” The bag attaches to your sleeping pad and you can zip off the top to create a quilt to bring over to the campfire to snuggle in, but leave your bed intact in your tent.

Colorado connection: The company is named for a 12,000-foot mountain near Steamboat Springs. This ski town is home to Big Agnes. Workers need not travel far to test the latest gear.

Price: Sleeping bags starting at $150, tents $400 and up; bigagnes.com

Light Provisions

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Brett Owens pours hot wax with fragrance into the glass jars he uses for his product, called Light Provisions.

Description: An old smelly house. That’s what inspired Brett Owens to start making his own candles, in hopes of making his living situation better on the nose. He taught himself how to hand pour candles and created unique scents along the way, like mixing bergamot and black pepper. His craft candle company has gained a strong following since then. The candles are known for smelling good and looking good. Each candle comes in an attractive jar.

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Brett Owens of Light Provisions puts wicks into jars of hot wax and keeps them in the middle with clothespins.

Colorado Connection: Owens was living with five roommates in an old Victorian house in Colorado Springs when he started Light Provisions. Today, he makes candles from his own house in Colorado Springs.

Price: $18; lightprovisions.com

Mutts and Mittens

Mutts and Mittens

Mutts and Mittens, which is based in Denver, offers colorful dog collars and leashes.

Description: Shannon Reiswig had a problem. She needed a shorter leash for one of her dogs. And she needed it that day. So she got out her sewing machine and crafted what she needed from an old leash. That was the start of Mutts and Mittens, which now has Reiswig sewing “practical pup gear” in a variety of cute fabrics. She says the business is a “culmination of a love for dogs and an ambitiously crafty spirit.”

Colorado connection: Reiswig makes Mutts and Mittens gear out of her house in Denver.

Price: Collars start at $10 and leashes start at $16; muttsandmittens.net

Vander Jacket

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A model poses in a handmade jacket from Vander Jacket.

Description: Sarah Vander Neut believes running is beautiful. And that you should look good while you do it. That’s why she makes one-of-a-kind running jackets, which strive to marry function and fashion, out of her house. Inspired by her father, who raced marathons for Nike, Vander Neut makes the colorful outerwear from recycled materials. Along with visually standing out, the jackets have features fit for a runner’s dream, like a watch hole and sizable pockets to fit an iPhone.

Colorado connection: Vander Neut runs her small operation out of a sewing room in her house in Aurora. She sells jackets online and via markets and pop-up shops around Colorado.

Price: Jackets start at $120; vanderjacket.com

Cole and Dainer

Cole and Dainer

Cole and Dainer, a company based in Vail, makes handcrafted blankets that come in a variety of sizes and patterns.

Description: The website says giving someone a Cole and Dainer blanket is “like gifting a hug.” Founder Nicole Hustad sticks by that. She started stitching blankets from the basement of her Vail house in 2015 and now has a team of women that make cozy blankets in an array of sizes and patterns. Options range from floral baby blankets to flannel throws for grown-ups. Hostas sums it up with another phrase: “Thoughtfully made, modern gifts that feel like home.”

Colorado connection: You can find Cole and Dainer blankets online as well as at the Vail Farmers Market and a few retailers in the Vail Valley.

Price: Blankets start at $68; coleanddainer.com

Be a Good Person Apparel

Be A Good Person

Be A Good Person, a Denver-based apparel company, offers T-shirts, sweatshirts, socks, hats and more items adorned with the company’s name and motto. 

Description: Whether it’s a pair of socks or a hat or a hoodie, each piece of clothing is adorned with the simple phrase spelled out with all capitalized words: “Be a good person.” Co-founder and Denver resident Darian Simon started the clothing line in 2015 with hopes of spreading positivity. It quickly found support from locals and star athletes such as Megan Rapinoe and Abby Wambach. Beyond a cool T-shirt design, “Be a good person” is a motto for living.

Colorado connection: The clothing line’s sole retail store is located in Denver’s RiNo Neighborhood.

Price: Prices vary for products. T-shirts start at $32; beagoodperson.com

2021 Evergreen Cemetery Heritage Calendar

Description: The quiet resting place for Colorado Springs’ history, Evergreen Cemetery has its own calendar in time for the city’s 150th birthday year. The cemetery planned by city founder Gen. William J. Palmer and deeded to the city is now more than 220 acres and on the National Register of Historic Places. This calendar is a project of the nonprofit Evergreen Heritage, which supports history and restoration projects.

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Colorado connection: Here lie thousands of area residents, dating to the earliest days of the city. There’s the city founder, those from the gold rush mining era, war heroes, union printers, celebrities, sports figures, famed business leaders and ranchers alongside people from every neighborhood.

Price: $24.95; tinyurl.com /y6cnr6pl

Horsetooth Hot Sauce

Life is good … and wonderfully spicy: muy caliente Melt Your Face, The Green, Dog That Bit You, The O Face and many more including special small batches. Add to that a bloody mary mix with plenty of bite. Horsetooth Hot Sauce was created by a couple, John and Michael Ann Comeau, who have been heating it up since 2008 and have followers nationwide.

Colorado connection: As they say, “Hot & Bottled in Fort Collins, CO” and found in major grocery stores, natural food stores and specialty markets all around the state. Bloody mary mixes are in liquor stores as well. Not getting out to shop as much? Enjoy that “bunker food” a lot more and have the food-enhancing hot sauces shipped, is their invitation.

Price: $6-10; horsetoothhotsauce.com

Sawatch Artisan Foods

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Gift box from Sawatch Artisan Foods.

Description: European-style, hand- rolled butter and cheese from Colorado cows. Butter is from 82% to 84% butterfat content, making it perfect for baking, and the low-moisture content makes it ideal for use at high altitude. Butter is available salted or unsalted. Cheeses include fresh cheese curds, aged gouda and aged lamphier (Sawatch’s version of white cheddar). All products are made in small batches from local dairies who deliver milk daily.

Colorado connection: The Sawatch Mountains boast some of the highest 14,000-foot peaks in the state. They were the owner’s inspiration for the company, which strives for the highest quality products without compromise.

Price: $8 per 8 ounces and up. Gift boxes $99 (plus tax and shipping. sawatchartisanfoods.com

Gather Food Studio and Spice Shop

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David Cook and Cortney Smith owners of Gather Food Studio and Spice Shop make several Colorado-themed spice blends.

Description: What started as a cooking school quickly morphed into a Colorado Springs spice shop where chefs Cortney Smith and David Cook source ingredients from around the world and literally hand-make dozens of unique spice blends. It was there way of suppling students with hard to find spices. They make some of the spices fresh while you wait. They are all free of additives and preservatives.

Colorado connection: Their bestsellers are OCC (Old Colorado City) Chicken Rub and OCC Steak Rub, inspired by Colorado. And the Pueblo Chile Rub, which uses locally sourced dried Pueblo chiles. They also sell other Colorado-sourced foods and gifts.

Price: $5.99 and up, gatherfoodstudio.com

Mika’s Pierogi Kitchen

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Dominika Mills and Zacharry, owners of Mika’s Pierogi Kitchen, make several types of fillings for their pierogis.

MIKA’S PIEROGI KITCHEN

Description: Dominika Mills and Zachary Short have perfected Polish pierogis and started their business in October in order to bring their “love pillows” (as they call them) to Colorado Springs. Here are a few of the top sellers: The Ruskie (cheese and potato), The Cowboy (meat with barbecue sauce), The Greek (spinach and feta), The Redneck Special (buffalo chicken and ranch), The dessert (sweet berries), The Classic (sauerkraut),and Wild Mushroom.

Colorado connection: El Paso County was Mills’ first home when she arrived from Poland in 2004. There weren’t many places serving Polish food and she wanted to be one of the first to introduce her homeland cuisine to Colorado.

Price: $15 per dozen. Free delivery with purchase of two dozen; facebook.com/mikaspierogikitchen

Olympic City USA online shop

Colorado Springs is Olympic City USA in a big way, and an official new online shop shouts it out to the world on shirts, hats and hoodies and accessories. The city-brand items have been available at the Springs airport, Olympic and Paralympic Training Center and the Pioneers Museum ,but now the city’s site puts it all online in time for holiday shopping. Especially handy in 2020.

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Colorado connection: Colorado Springs has been the training home to Olympians since the 1960s, is home to the United States Olympic Committee and near downtown is the just opened U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum. A portion of the online purchases supports the teams at a time of COVID-19 competition cancellations.

Price: Prices vary; ShopCOS.org