After weeks of coaxing Gail Sharp to permit me to interview her, she conceded with a humble proclamation: “I’m one within thousands of incredible people who live in Evergreen, and I’m certainly not unique.” My opinion greatly differs from the owner of TallGrass Spa and Salon and my friend for nearly 30 years.
Born and raised in Kansas City, Kansas, Gail was the only child of an adoring, stay-at-home mom and horse-loving dad who owned a printing business. “I started riding horses with my dad when I was 2 and shared my parents’ passion to ride Colorado trails, which is why I attended Colorado State University,” says Gail. Raised in a loving and nurturing home inspired Gail to do the same. “I majored in Early Childhood Education at CSU thinking it would help me raise my own children.”
Returning to Kansas City after graduation, Gail worked part time as a waitress and at an advertising agency. “I was satisfied waitressing, selling advertising space, and dating a local guy. When he moved to Chicago, this super shy Kansas girl realized she liked to fly, and she liked Chicago. When my boyfriend, who also worked in advertising, encouraged me to interview for a position with a Chicago ad agency, I did,” Gail reveals.
Striking a cavalier posture with her legs crossed and arm casually draped across the back of her chair, Gail’s interviewers asked, “How much do you want to make by the time you’re 30?” Then making $16k annually, Gail reached for the stars. She replied, “I want to be making my age.” Her two interviewers roared with laughter and responded, “We hope you’ll be making three times that.” Shocked by their reply and job offer, Gail flew home to discuss the prospect with her parents, who encouraged her to take the job.
Gail instantly morphed into a savvy business diva and admits, “I became a barracuda. I was responsible for $100 million accounts, I had five assistants, a lucrative expense account, and I traveled extensively. I wined and dined my clients in highly rated establishments and could party until 4 am, sleep for two hours, then catch 6 am flights and do it all over again. By the time I was 35, I was an alcoholic. Thanks to AA, I found my sobriety and spirituality. The power of money no longer appealed, and I questioned my lifestyle, so I took my leave of absence to initially care for my dying mother. My life became new from my spiritual development via AA and my mom’s death.”
Wanting to redirect her life, Gail was keenly aware of three prerequisites she wanted to pursue. She shares, “Number one was moving to Colorado. Number two was to live in rural Colorado, and number three was to get a dog and take it to work with me. A good friend and Chicago colleague, Nancy Bible, was also ready for a life change. We thought it would be fun to create a unique B&B that included a spa. Day spas weren’t a thing in 1995 and definitely weren’t an industry, so I attended a workshop in Santa Barbara entitled, ‘So You Think You Want to Be an Innkeeper.’ I called Nancy on the second day and said, ‘No way we’re doing this!’ So, we created a spa, and we went into it as dumb as a box of rocks.”
Combing the Front Range to find the perfect Colorado rural setting for their future spa, Gail and Nancy were attracted to Evergreen because of the owners and founders of The Wildflower Café, Graham and his wife, Corey, who worked with their baby strapped upon her back; and Gail Riley and Tom Statzell, founders of Highland Haven Creekside Inn. When their realtor drove them 5 1⁄2 miles down Upper Bear Creek Road to a two-thirds completed spec home, their dream seemed doomed. Gail remembers, “I was shocked the realtor took us to a residential property, but when she told us it was zoned commercial because the land was once associated with Bendemeer Ranch, it cinched the deal.” (Bendemeer Resort was built in the 1890s and had a central lodge surrounded by summer cabins.)
Gail continues, “Nancy and I fell in love with the property. I made the purchase and the Denver Aveda Rep put us in touch with the manager of the Oxford Spa (located in the famed Oxford Hotel). I believed a Higher Power would make this work—or not. If the latter was to be, I convinced myself being a waitress wasn’t so bad, but I certainly kept my focus positive and believed TallGrass would become a success.
“In the beginning, we had five employees: three massage therapists, one esthetician, and one nail tech. Our smartest move was hiring a PR firm, who ensured we were first featured in all local media. Soon thereafter, we appeared on a half-hour HGTV show, followed up with short articles in O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, and Travel + Leisure. Day spas were just beginning to take off, but we remained cautious. Nancy and I lived in TallGrass. My bedroom was the Sage Room. Our kitchen now was both our private and spa kitchen then, and our Quite Room served as our living room after hours. We lived the spa life 24/7.”
Two years after opening, Gail and Nancy had different opinions regarding business. Gail explains, “We amicably decided to dissolve our partnership. I bought Nancy out and continued to live in the spa four more years. Growth was constant. When I transitioned the three-car garage into nail and hair salons, I considered building myself a small, 600-square-foot cabin. I shared my plan with neighbors and learned they were moving, so I purchased their home.”
Gail welcomed the madness that growth created and reveals, “From 2007 to 2008, we had 95 employees. We became more staff-focused as TallGrass grew by implementing four value statements: motivation, compensation, rewarding, and recognizing. When I heard Tony Hsieh (then CEO of the online shoe and clothing company Zappos) talk about culture, I realized our next step was to really formalize our culture and live by it throughout every part of TallGrass’s operation. We already had a well-functioning team, but this was creating the gold standard. Our value and mission statement focus has led to us being named as a Top Workplace by the Denver Post for the past seven years. This award, out of all awards, is the one I take the most pride in. I also transitioned my own business focus to ensure every staff member felt valued and appreciated, something I never experienced during my sales career. I also shortened TallGrass’s mission statement into three words: Awe and Inspire.”
The camaraderie Gail created within TallGrass goes beyond the spa. “I wanted to become more active in the Evergreen community and got involved with philanthropic organizations. My staff wanted to do the same. We’ve partnered with MRC, EAPL, and JOY International, and also worked the Soldier Boxes program for eight years. When COVID hit and the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan, we started creating backpacks for homeless veterans that we donated to Bill Daniels Veteran Service Center. In the past two years, we’ve donated over 400 fully packed backpacks.”
When broaching the retirement age subject, Gail claims, “I’m now consumed with making people feel good and wanted, which has inspired me to keep working. I have no plans to retire. In my younger years, I thought having lots of money would make me happy. Having money isn’t nirvana. What blesses me is helping others, especially my friends and those who work for me whom I consider my family.”