The middle point between here and there. It would be easy to tuck Wellington away as just a quick stop between Denver and Cheyenne, and it does get its fair share of travelers who need a refuel on their way to somewhere else. But such a limited view of this small-but-growing town would be a mistake. Treasures abound in little Wellington, far beyond a fast burger and some fuel.
We visited downtown Wellington right after March’s massive snowstorm. Negotiating its main street was tricky, to say the least, but we were equipped with the perfect guide, Mary McCaffrey from the Wellington Area Chamber of Commerce. She led us on a rather delightful little trek through the town, helping us uncover several gems that we might have otherwise passed right on by.
Wellington, established in 1902, has always been a stop for travelers, whether it was for wagon trains or semitrucks. It has also supported much of Northern Colorado’s agriculture. As recently as the early 2000s, the town could only boast about 1,000 people. Today, the population sits at over 12,000 and growing, and housing construction has exploded all around Wellington as a cheaper alternative for young families than Fort Collins.
The town’s growth continues, and residents are now eagerly looking forward to the 2022 opening of their first high school. They have a sweet small-town feel, with a variety of shops and unique businesses that make a visit to Wellington a great way to wander away the afternoon.
On our tour, McCaffrey compiled a handful of downtown retail, restaurants and shops for us to visit. Along our walk, we enjoyed downtown murals and the history of several of Wellington’s older buildings. The sleepy town (especially after a two-foot snowstorm) didn’t really start to come alive until 5 p.m., but when the locals came out, they were jovial and friendly.
The downtown is very walkable,consisting of a handful of blocks with a variety of businesses tucked into old buildings and Victorian houses. Our first stop was the delightful jewelry shop and watch repair, Proper Time. Peter and Diana Pronko opened their shop in 2009. She manages the jewelry shop with a focus on southwestern jewelry. Peter is internationally renowned for his work on high-end watches.
Not only does he repair watches, Peter also purchases and restores Rolex and other collectable watches. The two shuttered their shop to walk-in traffic with the first COVID-19 shutdown, but now safely vaccinated, they are reopening for shoppers this month.
Heading west, we popped into Papa’s Table, an Italian-Asian fusion restaurant specializing in fresh seafood, veal and traditional Italian dishes. Tom (who is Italian) and Rose (who is Vietnamese) Casabona opened the restaurant in 2017, drawn to Wellington to be closer to grandchildren. Papa’s Table is planning to offer a weekly wine happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. beginning this spring.
Just down from Papa’s is the Wellington Grill, a lively spot for lunch or dinner. The mac ‘n’ cheese is one of their most popular dishes, but they offer traditional pub food, with a sizeable patio and music on the weekends.
Since we were between mealtimes, we landed on a midday snack at the delicious little bakery, The Cakery. The shop, which features cupcakes, custom cakes, cookies and other desserts, contains just a handful of chairs for customers and a bakery case filled with delightful offerings. On this particular day, the pistachio cupcake caught my eye, and the delicate pistachio flavor was highlighted beautifully by the Swiss meringue buttercream frosting. It is easy to see how a stop at The Cakery is a weekly, or perhaps daily, habit for many locals.
Crossing the street, we popped our heads into Knaack of It Automotive, the local auto shop operated by mother-daughter team, Linda and Sara Knaack. Linda describes her shop as the “doctor’s office for your vehicle.”
Having two women run an automotive shop has proved to be a smart move from a marketing standpoint—the women know how to put their female customers at ease and are willing to walk any client through the repair process so they can see exactly what the work will entail.
Thistle, a gift shop with unique and kitschy items that are both fun and unusual, was next up on our walk. The little shop took a unique approach to dealing with the pandemic by purchasing a set of lockers to place outside the shop. Customers could purchase online and then pick up their purchases at the locker with a special code. During our stop, I couldn’t resist a set of three little Monster Women Notebooks, fittingly decorated with female monster-superhero hybrids. This was just one of many fun gift ideas and local goods offered in the shop.
Next, we took a side street and walked down a block to Polished Nail Salon. The small salon offers manicures, pedicures, a spa room and a retail section packed with items curated by owner Lisa Christopherson under the Beauty Renewed label. Lisa, along with her daughter Sophia Burk, run both businesses together, with a focus on women helping women. Christopherson has long been an advocate for female victims of human trafficking (locally and internatonally), providing them with employment creating products as well as teaching them the skills to run a business.
Beauty Renewed products consist of handmade jewelry, clothing and accessory items, along with its own line of beauty products. They are in the process of expanding at their location with a garden area to house even more retail products and offer more services. To learn a little more about Beauty Renewed’s mission to help and empower women, visit iambeautyrenewed.com.
Having conquered the snow, it was time to wind down and McCaffrey led us to the social heart of downtown Wellington, Soul Squared Brewing Company’s taproom, located on Cleveland Avenue. Soul Squared features “farm-built beer,” utilizing local ingredients grown just feet from their farm-based production facility. The taproom is Colorado rustic with a heated patio and permanent food truck, Leave It to Cleaver. I enjoyed a small pint of their Rocky Mountain Haze on this trip.
For a small town, Wellington boasts two accomplished breweries, with the second, Sparge Brewing, located about a mile south. Much of Wellington’s new retail growth sits on this corridor and locals enjoy biking between the two breweries when weather permits.
Sparge opened its doors in 2019, founded by retired Army and homebrewing veteran Rich Efrid and his wife Leslie. Sparge offers two taproom spaces that can hold special events and are opening their new patio space this month. Their beers are largely low-to-moderate in alcohol and designed to be approachable for newbies and craft beer aficionados alike. I ordered a taster flight of four beers, including a double IPA and two versions of a classic wee heavy. However, the star for me (as I looked at the March snow and longed for a greener sign of spring) was the Pink Guava Blonde. The citrus easily came through with sweet fruit and a tropical nose.
Sparge ended our tour of Wellington for this visit, but we are eager to head back and check out the town on a warm summer evening. The drive from Fort Collins to Wellington on Highway 1 is a pretty one, with rolling farmland on both sides. Wellington also comes alive during the summer with a beer festival, farmers’ market on Thursday nights and a hugely popular Fourth of July festival. On your next trip north, be sure to stop and enjoy all the little town has to offer.
Explore NOCO is an ongoing series featuring downtowns throughout Northern Colorado. Check out our original video created by UPTRN.