Ski and Bow Rack

Larry Fisher greeted every customer as if they were long-lost relatives. For thirty-three years he welcomed people in the Ski and Bow Rack—until late one night, Larry confronted an intruder, who shot and killed him in his shop. His daughter, Brittany Bedtke, who worked for Pagosa’s Emergency Medical Services, knew it was her father the moment the call came in.

The loss of her father hit her like a train. But on top of that, she wrestled with the implications of his death—it was March of 2018, and Spring Break was in full swing in Pagosa Springs, a resort town near the famed Wolf Creek Ski Area. Larry, the driving force of this shop, was gone; the ship had lost its rudder. Questions began to assault her. What would happen to the business? The employees? The customers that had faithfully returned to shop for thirty-plus years? She felt it settling on her shoulders, and the weight threatened to crush her.

Brittany Bedtke had grown up in the Ski and Bow Rack: napped upstairs, played hide and seek in the racks, glued herself to her father’s side while he boot-fit customers. As an adult, she had stepped into the role of bookkeeper, and for nearly a decade, had helped her father figure out the financials through thick and thin. But it was different now; things had changed, irrevocably. That hearty laugh had stopped echoing through the archery lanes. Those leathered hands would never again pull the doors wide open for a customer. That great, big, warm-hearted smile would never greet anyone again. How would her father’s legacy, the Ski and Bow Rack, survive the loss of its heart and soul?

Bruno Petersons grew up in Chicago, Illinois. At 7’2” he dominated the basketball courts, eventually playing for Wright State University and then moving across the Atlantic to play pro ball in Europe. But when injuries began to pile up and play time diminished, he began to wonder if basketball could stay in his future. Until he received a call from his uncle, Larry Fisher. He packed up, moved to Colorado, and met his wife at Ski and Bow Rack.

As the manager of the Ski and Bow Rack for the past decade, Bruno knew that the shop would survive Larry’s death—for a little while. The structure of the business, along with the capable employees it boasted, had allowed Larry to operate hands-free for the most part for past several years. But the vision…the vision had always come from Larry. The final decisions belonged to him and him alone. And now without Larry, the questions began to pile.

Robert Bedtke, a Minnesota farm-boy turned Air Force mechanic turned world traveler, married Brittany in 2013. Five short years later, he and his wife came face to face with the prospect of purchasing the Ski and Bow Rack. It just so happened to be the furthest intention of their future life together. So with perhaps no small feelings of incompetence, the conversation of owning a ski shop began.

When at last the cousins and their spouses decided to partner together to continue Larry’s legacy and keep the Ski and Bow Rack open, the news gladdened hearts across Pagosa, the country, and even the ski industry. Certainly, the decision had not come easily—requiring a hefty bank loan to create a new business and to buy out the old business. And while Billionaire investors are handy to keep in your back pocket, Brittany, Robert, and Bruno had none, and had to settle for a loan officer as a surrogate backer.

As fate would have it, 1st Southwest Bank, the bank Larry had used for years, reacted positively to Brittany and Bruno’s requests, though they required a business plan to assess financial eligibility for a loan. Bruno’s experience lay in rebounds and slam dunks. Brittany’s medial skills had been honed in Emergency Services for years. Robert could take apart a fighter jet and put it back together—but a business plan? That felt about as foreign to them as the French National Basketball Team.

A suggestion, however, had been made by 1st Southwest: check in with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Fort Lewis College. Perhaps they could provide some much-needed assistance and direction for the cousins. Bruno and Brittany did some digging and found that the SBDC came with some rather glowing reviews. They wound up having a chat with Rich Lindblad, the business revitalization consultant for SBDC.

““He knew where we were at and where we needed to be,” Brittany acknowledged. “Conceptually, Bruno and I knew what a business plan was, but neither of us knew how to create one. Neither did we know how to lead a business. Rich presented us with questions to identify our focus, our mission, and how we wanted the business to look like.”

Through the coming weeks, Rich walked alongside them, providing much-needed insight and practical tools to help through the whole process. “Getting the plan started was the biggest hurdle,” Brittany continued, “specifically all that was to be entailed and formulating the structure. I had never been exposed to purchasing a business or the planning a business requires. I grew up working there, but I was too little to be involved or to understand. All of it was my dad’s. The flow sheet helped us to Identify what Bruno, Robert, and I wanted to maintain and where we wanted to improve. It also brought the reality that business was no longer Larry’s. The business was us. The flow sheet was a game changer.”

Slowly, the vision began to take shape. The weight began to disperse a little. Possibilities for a future began to crystallize. hope began to spark in their hearts. Perhaps the Ski and Bow Rack would survive after all. Perhaps the employees would still have jobs. Perhaps…perhaps these cousins and their spouses could do justice to this incredible legacy. Brittany, Bruno, and Robert decided on a subtle name change for the new business: Fishers Ski and Bow Rack, in honor of the man who founded it. And maybe, just maybe it didn’t necessarily mean filling Larry’s shoes, but making them their own.

“When Rich came in, we were overwhelmed. He provided us with guardrails and a step-by-step breakdown of what was needed. Running the business was achievable. It was not so overwhelming. Rich provided tools and personal insight, but he also gave us confidence. That allowed us to see we weren’t over our head, we just needed guidance,” Brittany stated.

Certainly, neither Bruno, Brittany, nor Robert could be Larry Fisher. But just as certainly, they found they could lead the Ski and Bow Rack into a bright future—with just the right helping hand at just the right time from the SBDC.

On December 7th, 2019, a date that has lived in infamy, Fishers Ski and Bow Rack hosted a Grand Re-Opening to celebrate the store’s 35th anniversary, the first anniversary of the proud new owners, and the completion of a remodel of the exterior of the shop—a plan Larry had put into motion, but had not lived to see. The vibrant atmosphere and crowds of smiling people filling the shop showed just how far the shop had come from that dark Monday morning, more than a year and a half past, when tragedy had struck. Tears of joy had replaced those of sorrow—hugs of hope had replaced those of desperation. And, like all good stories, this one is ending happily ever after.

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