Some things never change

A display at the Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership shows the continued importance of small business

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Instead of trying to attract big business to Craig, newly hired economic development director Wally Ralston said the key to improving the local economy is to help local businesses grow and to encourage entrepreneurship in the area.

"The traditional view of economic development has been business attraction," he said. "But in today's economy the chances of attracting someone like GMC is not very good. The cost of building the plant would be $200 million."

Communities like Craig are based upon small business, he said.

"Helping businesses that are already here grow is what it's about," he said.

Ralston's theory on local economic development is what inspired the decor in his new office located in the basement of Craig City Hall.

A wall in Ralston's new office is dedicated to one of Craig's first small business owners, Fred Ross.

Ross, a German immigrant, owned a saddle-making shop at 525 Yampa Ave. from 1891 to 1906.

In one of the first publications of the Pantograph, Craig's first newspaper, Ross had a front page advertisement for his business that read:

"Saddles, bridles and all other horse equipment made to order. All orders attended to promptly. All work speaks for itself. Quit patching up your harness with bailing wire but take it to Fred Ross, Craig, Col."

Two of Ross' handmade saddles, which sold for more than $50, are on display in Ralston's office.

"That hand-made saddle is 100 years old," Ralston said, pointing to the finely crafted woman's side saddle sitting in his office. "That's a work of art."

The exhibit was created by employees at the Museum of Northwest Colorado.

Ralston said they did an impressive job.

"This is extraordinary," he said. "They are very bright people at the museum. Not every economic developer can come into a community and get this kind of support."

Dan Davidson, director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado, said he wanted to do something business related when Ralston approached him about doing the project.

Davidson said he had done a lot of research on Ross and decided it would be a perfect fit for Ralston's office.

Davidson said he has been unable to track down much information about Ross except that he owned and operated the saddle shop from 1891 to 1906.

Ross left Craig in 1906 and moved to Louisville, Ken., where he continued as a saddle maker.

Why he left is still unknown to Davidson, he said.

But having a saddle maker in the community was important to the community at the beginning of the century, Davidson said.

"It would be like a town not having an automobile dealer today," he said.

"Not only did you need a place to buy saddles but you needed a place to get repairs done also."

Davidson has been able to track down many old advertisements that Ross published.

Just about every saddle Ross advertised went for more than $50, which was a significant amount of money 100 years ago.

"That was a lot of money," Davidson said. "But that's all a lot of cowboys usually owned except for their horse and what they wore."

A saddle made by Ross for the legendary Buffalo Bill also sits on display upstairs at the museum.

"rom everything we can find he was very good at what he did," Davidson said of Ross1s craftsmanship.

When people look at old pictures of Craig they'll see that the saddle shop and two or three other businesses are all that sat on Yampa Avenue 100 years ago.

Without small businesses like Ross' it's hard to say how or if Craig would have grown.

"This shows the growth of Craig was a result of entrepreneurship," Ralston said. "His business came about from a vision."

Not only does the new exhibit in Ralston's office tell a story, but it livens up the once barren office that Ralston occupies.

"This takes away the perception that you're coming down to the police station," he said. "I hope to get some more foot traffic down here."

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