College's decision not to renew Leechpit lease stirs protests

NED B. HUNTER Updated: December 6, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: December 6, 2012

It looks like the Leechpit will be moving — and some aren’t happy about it.

Colorado College students and others have held several protests in front of the store in the past few weeks, rallying against the college’s refusal to renew the store’s lease.

As of Wednesday, Leechpit owner Adam Leech said nearly 1,000 students had signed a petition asking Colorado College officials to reconsider their decision not to renew the lease.

The Leechpit, at 802 N. Nevada Ave., is a cacophony of vintage memorabilia from several decades that caters to those seeking nonmainstream clothing and music. The store’s lease with Colorado College, which owns the building, expires in less than eight months, and the college has stated it wants the building.

“Colorado College is one of those art-based colleges where you can be experimental, and you can express yourself freely,” said Rebecca Hamilton, a junior from Northern California studying visual arts, “and having the Leechpit there makes it easier to be that way.”

The Leechpit’s lease expires July 31, 2013, Jane Turnis, the college’s director of communications, said in an email to The Gazette.

“The college needs to use its building for student activities,” Turnis wrote. “In a good-faith effort, the college offered another location close to campus; however, that offer was not accepted. The college will honor the lease agreement that both parties signed until the lease expires.”

Leech said the location offered by the college was a three-story house, which would not be suitable for most retail businesses. In August, the college offered him $6,000 to end his lease early, Leech said.

“That would not cover moving expenses and the deposit for another lease,” he said.
Stepping inside the Leechpit is like exploring your grandparents’ attic.

A silver, miniskirt prom dress hangs from the ceiling. A steel G.I. Joe and Captain America lunch box are two of about 30 metal lunch boxes that line shelves near Zippo lighters, clumps of silver belt buckles, used cowboy boots, disco clothing and other vintage items that include “ugly” sweaters. But it’s the more than 2,000 vinyl Long Play (LP) albums stacked in wooden crates that bring in the majority of Leech’s customers. Another 2,000 albums are crammed into the back room, Leech said.

One album, “Songs, Themes and Laughs from the Andy Griffith Show,” leans against the store’s wooden support beam near the checkout stand. The album is indicative of the off-beat records from the 1920s through the present sold by the store. Forget James Taylor  and Chicago , the Leech sells LPs by nonmainstream bands, like “Meet the Rutles.”  

Brandie Monroe is a frequent Leechpit shopper. For five years, Monroe’s family has competed against each other to see who can find the ugliest sweater to wear during the holidays. Monroe, of Little Rock, Ark., has never won, beaten each year by her grandmother. Still, she remains confident she will find this year’s prize-winning sweater inside the Leechpit. “I love the Leechpit because the things he (Leech) sells are unique, and you can’t find them any where else,” said Monroe, a senior at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

“His prices are great, so it’s nice for being a broke college student.”

Leech, 33, said he doesn’t feel like Colorado College is “picking” on him. But, he said, “I think they don’t really know what this store is worth to the neighborhood.”

The building that houses the Leechpit was previously Toon’s Music and Video, Leech said, once the location for midnight CD releases, band concerts and other events. Leech worked there when he was 15. That business closed around April 2008, Leech said.

“The saddest part of having to move,” Leech said, “is that this building has been an anchor for the subculture, or the counterculture, or whatever you want to call it, for Colorado Springs forever.”

Leech opened his first store in 2003 at 708 N. Weber St. He opened at the current location on Feb. 19, 2011.  

Forcing the Leechpit to move too far from Colorado College could do irrevocable damage to Leech’s business, Hamilton said.

“I think if the Leechpit was not as close to the college as it is now,” she said, “it would not be as successful as it is.”

Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275.

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