In 1982, Cathy and Bill Thompson built the Overland Trail Shops from the ground up, and brought the tiny town of LaPorte within walking distance of a grocery store, a hardware store and various other shops the residents would have had to drive for miles to access. Bill died six years ago but Cathy still works at her hardware store, renting out the other spaces which now include a veterinary clinic, a massage clinic, a chiropractor, an animal supply, a bakery and, of course, Overland Foods. Bill passed away six years ago but Cathy, as spry and busy as ever, still comes to work four days a week.
Cathy began her retail career when she was eighteen years of age, working in downtown Fort Collins at the Montgomery Ward store on the 100th block of north College. The store had three levels including the basement and as Cathy says, they had EVERYTHING! She worked there for eight years.
Cathy became a real estate broker in 1972. Bill worked as an auto mechanic. In 1982, the Beaver’s market across the street needed a new building. Cathy and Bill saw the opportunity for an investment and decided that if they were going to build a grocery store, why not build a mall? They called David Neenan, the founder of the Neenan Company, to orchestrate the project, including the financing. Cathy states it was very hard to get financing for a project under 1 million dollars but Mr. Neenan was able to secure a loan. Overland Trail Shops took less than a year to build.
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Beaver’s Market was bought out by Overland Foods. The business rented from Cathy and Bill and still rents from Cathy. The reason Cathy and Bill got into the hardware business was because they needed a renter for the space opposite the grocery.
The earliest days of Overland Trail Shops included some creative marketing. They hosted a flea market every summer for seven years. They sold cherry cider, fireworks and Christmas trees. There was also a small hotel on the corner of the property the couple rented out.
For years they paid rent to Overland Trail Shops but now Cathy owns the hardware store outright. The rest of the building is in Bill’s trust.
There have been some significant changes in the community. The High Park Fire and the floods of 2013 have resulted in a notable loss of customer base as the mountain customers have been forced out of their homes. Many of the older residents have gone to nursing homes or have died. Cathy mentions that younger families are moving in but oddly, the number of children in the Cache La Poudre schools is declining as more parents opt for the school of choice instead of the one across the street.
Cathy herself, doesn’t intend to change a thing. She enjoys her job and the constant socializing. She says the store has been around so long it often serves as a community information center. The financial success is due to catering specifically to the LaPorte and mountain communities. She tries to have items the big box stores don’t have and a visit to the store is known to spare many a do-it-yourselfer from a trip to Home Depot.
David Neenan recalls the Thompsons as honest, hardworking, pioneers of the early 70’s. Referring to the Overland Trail Shops as a great early project, he remembers them as good people and very vocal about their likes and dislikes. The Thompsons ended up buying a home in the same neighborhood as the Neenan’s and Mr. Neenan spoke fondly of them as neighbors.
The next time you have a project, try LaPorte Hardware first. You’re likely to find everything you need (and save some money, too).