Boul­der’s Bartkus Oil clos­ing af­ter 71 years

Chang­ing times, neigh­bor­hood be­hind move

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Shay Cas­tle

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.

Boul­der Daily Cam­era

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,

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