A popular downtown Colorado Springs retailer has changed hands, but hasn’t changed the way it will do business.
Terra Verde, the 27-year-old clothing and lifestyle boutique at 208 N. Tejon St., has been sold by owner Chris Sondermann to employees Carrie Hibbard Baker and Leah Fitzgerald Riehl. They took over this month as co-owners.
The sale of Terra Verde, which offers trendy women’s clothing, jewelry, handbags, accessories, home decor and gifts, has been in the works for a while.
Sondermann founded Terra Verde in 1992 with her then-husband and became sole owner in 2007. She began considering retirement a few years ago, but said she didn’t want to close the business.
Instead, she sought a new owner who’d be loyal to customers, the downtown community and the store’s staff, which includes more than 20 personal stylists and sales associates.
In 2016, Sondermann approached Baker and Riehl, who immediately were interested in buying Terra Verde.
“I didn’t have to look very far,” Sondermann said. “Right in my own backyard were Leah and Carrie. They had the perfect complementary skill set. From the very initial presentation of the idea, they were so positive and the thought of just closing, really, there wasn’t room to entertain that.”
Riehl, a Colorado Springs native, worked at Terra Verde as a summer intern in 2011, graduated from the University of Wyoming with a bachelor’s degree in fashion and merchandising and then joined Terra Verde full time. She was promoted to store manager in 2016.
Baker, a fifth-generation Springs resident, is part of a downtown retail legacy. She’s a descendant of the family that founded the Hibbard & Co. department store, which operated on Tejon for more than a century before closing in 1996.
She worked 12 years for Starbucks, training employees and traveling around the country to open new stores. Baker also was a business manager for Picnic Basket Catering in the Springs before she joined Terra Verde as financial officer in 2016.
Sondermann’s plan in 2016 to sell Terra Verde to Baker and Riehl allowed her to mentor the pair over the last four years before the deal took place. She said she looked for red flags that might signal the sale wouldn’t be successful or that Baker and Riehl couldn’t work together as partners.
But she didn’t see any.
“I really set an agenda for them, and we’ve stuck to it, to make sure we were covering all the bases,” Sondermann said of running the business. “They worked really, really hard at it.”
The four-year mentorship was the smartest move Sondermann ever made, Baker said, and she and Riehl feel at home running the store.
“It’s an original,” Baker said. “There’s no other store in Colorado Springs like Terra Verde. I think what Chris has done, as a smart business owner, she’s kept a great mix of different products available and she’s also changed with the times. If we’re talking about women’s fashions or something like that, she’s always kept the store current.”
Leaving Terra Verde is bittersweet and she’ll miss the staff and customers, said Sondermann. She plans to enjoy hiking, biking, reading and traveling and spending time with husband Don Hawley, a retired Colorado Springs Fire Department captain.
“I’m comforted knowing it’s in really good hands,” she said.
One piece of advice that Sondermann gave to Baker and Riehl?
“Have fun at this,” she said. “Part of what makes Terra Verde Terra Verde is that the ownership has fun doing it and the staff has a good time putting together this great collection and coming up with novel merchandising and interesting marketing. The business needs to carry on in that same mode of people really enjoying running it.”