Boulder’s Bartkus Oil closing after 71 years
Changing times, neighborhood behind move
Bartkus Oil, a Boulder presence for 71 years, is going out of business this month, its demise hastened by the ongoing redevelopment of the city’s blue-collar bastions.
There were a few factors that moved owner Steve Baxley to close the distributor of fuel and lubricants, only one of them related to the business: a shrinking customer base.
Much of the decline came from shifting consumer tastes. Propane and natural gas have replaced heating oil as the primary fuel for homes. But other business dried up as Boulder County became increasingly urban.
Farmers, once a big source of income for Baxley, have dwindled as agricultural land was developed. Machine shops, too, disappeared from town as the cost of real estate climbed.
“At one time, there were probably 50 to 60 machine shops in Boulder, and they used a lot of oil,” he said. “But costs got too high and now there’s just a handful left.”
Bartkus has been in the Baxley family since 1984. Steve’s brother Brian works there; the siblings purchased the business in 2003 from their father, who himself bought it from founder Tony Bartkus. Bartkus founded his namesake company in 1946.
The business moved from 18th and Folsom streets in 1973, just east of what is now Boulder Junction. Google’s new campus is just visible to the northwest; multi-story apartment buildings block the mountains from view.
Baxley blames redevelopment of the area for forcing his hand. Construction on multiple projects made it difficult for trucks to get in and out, and skyrocketing land value pushed up his property taxes to unmanageable levels.
“Taxes are $2,000 a month on this property,” he said. “As a small business, that hurdle is huge.”
Baxley owns the land at 3501 Pearl St., and plans to rent or sell once Bartkus closes on March 31. But the high tax burden might limit who can use it.
“You can’t sell to people who are in businesses like we are because it doesn’t generate enough money, and it’d be tough to find an industrial renter for $8,000 to $10,000 per month, which is what you’d need to rent it for.”
Other factors could hinder buyers, too, like the city’s vision for the area.
Bartkus’ next-door neighbor, Boulder Roofing, recently attempted to sell its office and material yard to a company with plans to scrap the building and start fresh. The buyer backed out after seeing the city’s list of requirements: sidewalks, curbs, gutters, parking — unusual amenities for a piece of land zoned industrial mixed use.
“If you look up and down the street, there are car shops, a plumbing supplier, a roofer and an oil company,” said Amy Hawkins, coowner of Boulder Roofing.
Once the deal fell through, the roofing company decided to stay and do an interior remodel. “If you stay within the walls, then the city can’t make you do whatever they hope to make you do,” she said.
Hawkins is happy keeping the business where it is, but worried what might be coming down the pike. She has a file full of drawings and plans received from the city over the years as it looks to revamp Boulder Junction with retail and residential options.
“If someone else came along that fit more in the mixed-use mold, I’m sure the city of Boulder would be happy about it,” she said. “We feel like we’re a little monopoly piece sitting here.”
The Transit Village Area Plan does outline “desired” zoning for the area as a mix of industrial, office and residential, along with public spaces like a park, according to Susan Richstone, deputy director of planning, housing and sustainability with the city.
But there is a special emphasis in the plan for keeping the area industrial-focused, given its history. And the public process — via Boulder’s Planning Board and City Council — could further shape the area according to the needs and concerns of the community.
“There has been a concern and interest in making sure we preserve the service industrial uses and existing industrial uses,” Richstone said. “This plan was done 10 years ago, so I do think when we do get to looking at (the next phase), there will be a look at what’s in there and if the issues have changed.”
No timeline has been set for Phase 2 of the Transit Village Area Plan, which is dependent upon the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan that’s under review now.
Whatever and whenever it happens, Bartkus will be long gone. Baxley had his own 10-year plan when he took over the business in 2003, and it always ended with the company closing.
He and his employees “were kind of old to begin with,” Baxley said. “We’re ready to get out.”
As for what’s next, Baxley said he intends to spend a lot more time at his Broomfield home, growing tomatoes.
Bartkus Oil Co. worker Brian Seeman works to load a barrel of hydraulic oil onto a truck to be delivered to a customer on Tuesday. Jeremy Papasso,