Martin J. Smith’s humorous and poignant essay (“Subaru Cowboy”) in this month’s issue deftly employs the cowboy hat as a metaphor for what draws so many people to Denver and the West. One passage about our culture has especially stuck with me: “It’s complicated—and has little to do with lifestyle, weather, or Western mythology. It has to do with something deeper and more intrinsic: the freedom to be who you really are. A friend once described the West as a place created when a great force picked up the United States by the East Coast and shook it. People who were unattached, unstable, or willing to risk letting go found their ways here. As a result, many of the Westerners I admire are people who navigated unusual paths to success and happiness, even if it meant doing things differently than anyone had done before. Here, we’re all free to pursue dreams and schemes without regard to reality as everyone else has defined it.”
Smith could be describing the journey we’ve taken with 5280, which this month celebrates its 25th anniversary. Indeed, our path has been anything but traditional. Investors wanted no part of such a risky venture back in the early ’90s, so I bootstrapped the magazine’s launch with my savings and a sock drawer full of maxed-out credit cards. We did everything the hard way, which usually meant the cheap way.
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But I now see that there were benefits to this slow-but-steady approach. Yes, we missed deadlines and made plenty of mistakes, but running a lean operation served us well during the economy’s inevitable downturns. And our financial independence gave us the freedom to stick to our own vision of what a great magazine should be.
Gradually, we found our footing and built an audience of like-minded people who shared our passion for this remarkable place. The stories we told righted a few wrongs, sparked some change, and maybe helped you find a great doctor or the perfect restaurant for a memorable night with the people you love.
Today’s 5280, like Denver itself, is flourishing. Over the past several years, we’ve expanded the 5280 Publishing, Inc. family with three spinoff magazines, five additional publications under the Colorado Parent banner, and a pair of fast-growing websites. Just last month, the City and Regional Magazine Association named 5280 the best big-city magazine in America, our first such honor. Also in June, we debuted a collection of our longform journalism entitled Mile High Stories: 25 Years Of Our Best Writing. On the business side, 5280’s paid subscriber base has increased by more than 11 percent in the past decade. In that same period, our company’s total revenue grew by 43 percent.
I point this out because I believe it proves that independently owned, high-quality, local journalism remains viable even in today’s uncertain times. It also confirms Smith’s argument that we’re blessed to live and work in a place where even the most unusual dreams and schemes can be pursued.
None of 5280’s achievements would have happened without the help of countless people: colleagues, friends, family, advertisers, and, most of all, you, the readers. There isn’t enough space in this entire issue to thank everyone who ought to be thanked, nor would mere words begin to repay the debt we owe you. Please know, however, that all of us at 5280 remain committed to sharing the stories of this extraordinary place in the hope they can illuminate your path—be it traditional or not—to success and happiness.