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Hickenlooper gets a taste of Durango, praises town for ‘reimagining’ itself


Ryan Zernis of the bluegrass band “Waiting on Trial” introduces Gov. John Hickenlooper on stage during Sunday’s Taste of Durango on Main Avenue. The governor touted Durango’s economy as a national model that was able to reinvent itself around guiding ethos of exercise, fitness, music and culture.

By Stephanie Cook
Herald Staff Writer

Local bluegrass band Waiting on Trial took a break from pickin’ tunes during Taste of Durango on Sunday afternoon to welcome a surprise guest to the stage.

Band member Ryan Zernis chanted, “We got the guv, we got the guv,” before changing his tune and introducing Gov. John Hickenlooper by announcing, “Ladies and gentleman, the governor of the great state of Colorado.”

The crowd – a big one typical for this annual favorite event – cheered and clapped, as Hickenlooper took the stage wearing a button-down shirt and blue jeans.

“Thank goodness they’re a lot better at playing music than they are at making introductions,” Hickenlooper said, teasing back at the band before briefly addressing event-goers.

He thanked Durangoans for welcoming him and for supporting Manna Soup Kitchen, the beneficiary of Taste of Durango, before mentioning ProStart, a national career-building program for high school students interested in the culinary industry. He enthusiastically congratulated Durango’s ProStart team for winning this year’s state championship and taking ninth place at the national championships in Baltimore.

“Restaurants are, I think, the epitome of small business,” said Hickenlooper, a Denver Democrat, who was joined for much of the afternoon by Peter Meersman, the head of the Colorado Restaurant Association who also came from Denver for the event. “They help us see what, what small businesses are like,” the governor said.

This was Hickenlooper’s first visit to the Taste of Durango, and he seemed to try something at nearly all 37 booths as he chatted with those in line around him, occasionally stopping to shake hands or pose for pictures with supporters, before eventually taking the stage.

He closed the two-minute speech with a few comments about the local economy.

“You guys really are a national model of how a town over the last 20 years can reimagine itself and create a diverse economy that’s got big companies and little companies, all based around exercise and fitness and music and culture,” he said. “I mean Fort Collins is looking at what happens here, Colorado Springs looks at what happens in Durango. You have the lowest unemployment of any town in Colorado.”

One segment of the diverse economy, as demonstrated by booths up and down Main Avenue, including Steamworks Brewing Co., Carver Brewing Co., Durango Brewing Co., and Ska Brewing Co., is Durango’s contribution to the fast-growing market for craft beer.

“Craft beer, it only supplies 5 percent of the total beer that’s drunk, and yet it supplies almost 56 percent of the jobs, isn’t that cool?” Hickenlooper said. He was in town to attend a fundraiser for state Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, who is currently running against U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, for Colorado’s 3rd U.S. Congressional District.

At the fundraiser, held from noon to 1:30 p.m. on the roof of the Crossroads building, Pace supporters shook hands and exchanged introductions over the buzz of the festival below. Pace planned to head downstairs after the fundraiser to check out Taste of Durango with City Councilor Christina Rinderle.

Hickenlooper is currently on a whirlwind bill-signing tour, driving to at least 15 locations around the state and signing 13 bills over five days. After Durango, Hickenlooper and his entourage planned to travel to Delta and then Grand Junction, where the governor was going to visit St. Martin’s Place, a housing complex for homeless veterans, to present the homeless initiative, “Pathways Home Colorado.”


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