Boulder, Redefined: A Look at One of Colorado's Favorite Cities

"The city nestled between the mountains and reality" is home to a vibrant entrepreneurial past and present.

About 25 miles northwest of Denver on Highway 36, the stunning craggy peaks of the Flatirons and the city beneath come into view. Enter a community of students and academics, trustafarians and hippies, counterculturists and idealists and everything in between. Boulder has racked up numerous accolades over the years, regaled for its quality of life, fitness and outdoor recreation options and impressive food scene. It’s hard to fit into just one box; the city does its best to defy all stereotypes. 

Boulder was originally founded as a gold rush town in 1859, but unlike most boom-or-bust cities, its pioneering spirit never died. Instead, an entrepreneurial spirit flourished. In 1876, Boulder graduated the first high school class in the Territory of Colorado, and a year later University of Colorado (CU Boulder) opened its doors.

The arrival of Ball Aerospace in the 1950s and IBM in the 1990s helped to secure the city’s progressive future. And by 2010, the city had six times more startups per capita than the national average. The town has matured and continues to attract top talent with its desirable work-life balance and breathtaking landscapes. Boulder has transformed into a thriving tech scene, frequently heralded as the New Silicon Valley, with CU Boulder as a reliable anchor. And there are no signs of slowing down, as Google is slated to open a campus in Boulder in 2017.

Destination Pearl Street

To a visitor, the transformation may be subtle, but to a local, it’s hard not to notice that the city has morphed into an influential startup district. Downtown Boulder’s Pearl Street, once littered with backpackers, street performers, sidewalk cafes and college bars, quietly became interspersed with co-working spaces and startup headquarters. The air buzzes with ideas and energy, seeming to pulsate at an ever-so-slightly higher frequency.

The city is a haven for creative and industrious Gen-Xers and millennials keen on taking advantage of its unique quality of life. Adapting to the environment, common work perks have come to include shower facilities for after a lunch-hour hike or bike ride, shared ski passes and dog-friendly offices.

“As startups move in, they have a certain aesthetic that’s supportive of renewing the community and building a fresh, progressive vibe,” said Jeffrey Donenfeld of Boomtown Accelerator.

These companies jigsaw themselves into existing spaces, literally and figuratively making themselves a part of the city. 

“We have this amazing downtown full of cool brick buildings getting a new lease on life without ostracizing what was already there by adding unsightly strip malls or new developments,” added Donenfeld.

(©Rich Grant)

A Merging of Territories

Wander up and down the pedestrian thoroughfare today, and you’ll still find plenty of whimsy. Chain retailers are interspersed with mom-and-pop galleries and shops. Some stores, like Starr’s Clothing Co., have stood the test of time—the apparel company was founded in Colorado in 1914. Other entrepreneurial ventures have applied innovative visions like the nonprofit apparel boutique Ramble on Pearl, which provides job training and job placement services to adults with developmental disabilities. And several have garnered national attention, like the quaint corner shop Cured, which serves local cheese and charcuterie and is owned by a pro-cyclist-turned-entrepreneur and his wife, a former yoga therapist. 

The sounds of violins, guitars, harmonicas and bongos permeate the air along Pearl Street. Each song is unique and yet, inexplicably, not clashing, demonstrating an ironic metaphor for the area. A yogi balances a flaming chair on his forehead proclaiming, “Street performance is the oldest form of art. It’s all about human connection. This is Boulder.” It’s sensory overload in all the right ways—everything contributing to the fabric of the narrative.

(©Stephen Collector/Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau)

Keeping the Peace

The city’s emergent startup culture also blends with the inspirational outdoors environment—It’s a work-hard, play-hard community that harmoniously co-exists.

“Boulder is ‘a city surrounded by a park,’” said Kim Farin of The Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Boulder is surrounded by 45,000 acres of land, which is an enormous amount of space to play.”

Ask anyone what he or she does, and they’ll likely reply with an activity, not a job. Chautauqua Park, Boulder Creek and the Flatirons stand as a constant reminder that life is what happens outside four walls. Bikes will always be the preferred method of transportation and, yes, fresh powder is a reasonable excuse to take a sick day.