Kleist Siblings
The Kleist siblings (the five J’s). Top row: Jeff, James, John. Bottom row: Jody, Julie. 

When my then in-laws moved to Evergreen in 1979 so the mother-in-law could be closer to Willie Nelson (true indeed), my beloved father-in-law treated me to never-to-be-forgotten shopping expeditions on Main Street—memories time will never erase.

Knowing my love for horses, Curt introduced me to Kleist Boots and Saddles, not so much to voyeur the vast array of new and used saddles, boots and tack, but to meet Dale and Eunice Kleist who moved from the Seattle area to Evergreen in 1970 and started Kleist’s Boots and Saddles soon thereafter. Curt knew no strangers, and it was more than apparent he held the Kleists in high regard.

I reached out to the Kleist’s daughter, Jody, who lives in Kittredge, and their son, Jeff, now living in Montrose, who both eagerly accepted my invitation to share their memories of growing up in downtown Evergreen.

“Jody and Jeff both agree that growing up in downtown Evergreen created a perfect childhood.”

“Dad was laid off from Boeing in Seattle, Washington, so we moved to Colorado. I was 12 and Jeff was 10. Mom and Dad discovered Evergreen when they went for a Sunday drive,” Jody reveals. Jeff adds, “We moved into a small cabin that was then located where Cactus Jack’s parking lot is now. Dad found a shoe repair shop for sale where Evergreen Clothing & Mercantile is now. He set up shop and slowly added saddles and boots to sell that turned out to be more lucrative. When Paul and Elma Hammond moved Hammond’s Hardware from their Main Street location to Meadow Drive, my dad moved his business into their vacated store that provided ample room with the ability to expand.”

Jody and Jeff both agree that growing up in downtown Evergreen created a perfect childhood. “Our parents were very busy with their store, which gave us a lot of freedom to play without them knowing what we were up to most of the time,” Jeff claims. “One of our favorite things to do was to get inner tubes, the bigger the better, and ride them from Evergreen Dam down Bear Creek to Davidson’s Lodge, that is now Bear Creek Cabins. We walked Bear Creek back to the dam so our parents couldn’t see us. It would have been a severe punishment had they known what we were up to.”

“I loved going to the Paint Pot, which was a paint store that carried arts and crafts and was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Kelso,” Jody adds. “Kids also enjoyed hanging out at Daylight Donuts, the Taffy Shop, Woody’s Shoe Box (for those who didn’t wear boots), and Crafters. Growing up in Evergreen was heavenly because kids bonded for life and there was always something to do and someone to do it with,” Jody says. “When our parents built their own house in Hiwan Village, we had better access to skate Evergreen Lake or tube on the golf course. Horseback riding was also a favorite pastime. We’d rent horses from Joe’s Stables, then on Buffalo Park Road, and we rode from one side of Evergreen to the other, paying $5 an hour.”

As Evergreen’s popularity grew, so did Kleist’s Boots and Saddles. Jeff shares, “Our parents added hiking boots and workwear to their inventory, and also started selling used tack and boots. There were a lot of families who couldn’t afford new boots for their kids, and their kids loved going into their used boot pile to find their perfect boot, be it for hiking, climbing or horseback riding.”

When the ’60s and ’70s cultivated the “hippie” culture, it impacted the Kleist business for the better. “Kids started coming to my parents to ask for their leather remnants from the leather vests, pants and skirts my mom was making and selling. She also sewed leather patches from the remnants onto jeans as well as the then popular Hot Pants. When an attractive out-of-town customer came into the shop, my dad did all he could to convince her to buy a pair of patched Hot Pants, claiming they were ‘very fashionable.’ He worked very hard to make that sale,” laughs Jody.

Kleists Rodeo Parade
Jeff Kleist riding in the Evergreen Rodeo Parade approximately 1986. Jeff’s friend Tony Jackson driving.
Jody Kleist riding shotgun.

One of the more popular Kleist clients was Willie Nelson. “Willie, with his wife, Connie, came into the store to buy tack as well as boots and jeans when I was working at the store from 1981 to 1991. There have been rumors that Willie also walked into Little Bear and took the stage to sing a time or two. This is not a rumor, but fact,” claims Jeff. “I saw him sing several times at the Little Bear. I think Willie liked living in Evergreen because he could walk into stores such as ours and Daylight Donuts and know he would be treated respectfully and never pestered—treated just like everyone else.”

Perhaps Evergreen’s most highly regarded and most revered “character” has always been our Evergreen Fire Department. “Everyone in town, and beyond, knew there was a fire back in the days before we had cellphones and more technical radio communication. Sirens were plentiful from Kittredge, downtown Evergreen and beyond,” Jeff says. “Our firefighters were highly revered, and I still remember Jerry Hladik, volunteer firefighter, flying through town en route to help fight a fire. Another hero of mine was Gene Younger. I never would have made it through high school had it not been for Gene. He started the Evergreen High School Building Trades Program which enabled kids like me—who squirmed rather than paid attention in any of my other classes—to learn how to build houses. I doubt I would have made it through high school if it weren’t for Gene. Because of him, I have become proficient at construction. He gave me unlimited opportunities to learn, and after I graduated, Brad Lenz hired me.”

When Evergreen’s growth started to explode and parking was scarce, Jody says “a shuttle bus service picked up people from several parking lots that were situated close to town. We could also take a tour bus from Evergreen to Buffalo Bill’s grave, then catch another to take us to the Brown Palace in Denver. Change spiked when Walmart and Home Depot came to Evergreen. I worked for Ted LaMontagne, who purchased Hammond Lumber and renamed it The Hardware. Everyone loved The Hardware for its old-fashioned charm and staff who knew every type of hardware need. Ted knew it was only a matter of time before Home Depot would put him out of business, which it did.” Jeff adds his memories of Tom Sjoden. “Tom managed Evergreen’s Mountain Bell Office when Evergreen had 1600 phone lines. Tom and his wife, Alice, lived in a house he built near Wilmot Elementary, then moved to another on Little Cub Creek. After he retired from Mountain Bell, he worked at Evergreen National Bank, and then at The Hardware. Tom was also a gifted storyteller.”

From their perspective, Evergreen gifted Jody and Jeff with an ideal childhood, the pleasure of indulging in simple fun, forging forever friendships, and embracing the history and legacy of our beloved downtown.