For nearly six decades, 1418 Larimer Street was home to Gusterman Silversmiths, a renowned local jeweler and beloved fixture on Larimer Square. The shop’s patrons included actress Debbie Reynolds, U.S. Senator Gary Hart, and author Clive Cussler. As of March 31, however, the approximately 600-square-foot space is “as empty as a tomb,” says Mary Eckels, longtime owner of Gusterman. Its closure marks the end of an era: Gusterman Silversmiths was the last original tenant of Larimer Square, Denver’s first designated historic district. Here, we spoke with 73-year-old Eckels about her tenure on Larimer Square, what prompted the move, and what’s ahead for the accomplished artist.
Editor’s note: The following conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
5280: You bought Gusterman Silversmiths in 1978 after working in the store as an apprentice under Astrid Gusterman for eight years. How did you get that job?
Mary Eckels: In my early 20s, I had just come back to Denver after exploring Los Angeles and Albuquerque and stuff. I was really glad to be back home (Editor’s note: Eckels grew up near the University of Denver) and Larimer Square was just starting out. I got a job in a dress shop there called Boutique International—a lady carried things from Germany. And I worked for her for about a year, and then started working at Gusterman. The fellow that was the main silversmith at the time was a friend of mine from high school. And he fired his apprentice because he was sleeping on the job. And he said, Well, missy, you want to be a silversmith? I just fired Paul, so you can have the job if you want it. And I said, Sure.
In reflecting on your 52-plus years in Larimer Square, what stands out?
I miss the hat shop, Goorin Bros. They were so good and so personable. And they were there for 15 years. Other than that, oh man, every single one of the merchants over the years–there was a candlemaker, a weaver, a potter, a toy store that sold just stuffed animals. All of the trends of fashion would pop up–Olivia Newton John set up a shop there at one point. There was a bookstore, there was a place called Dear Dancer that had Native American work. Several other jewelers over the years came and went. John Atencio came in and he’s still there, at least right now. I miss them all. They were all really, really good friends.
Does the Larimer Square of 1970 (the first year you started working at Gusterman Silversmiths), bear any resemblance to Larimer Square today?
Not today. But before the pandemic, it was still really nice. Everybody still loved each other. And we’d talk with each other when we took breaks. And there were various events that happened on the square–there was dining al fresco, there were outdoor concerts, there was the Chalk Art Festival. And you go back farther, Oktoberfest was there. That was where Oktoberfest started in Denver. But the pandemic absolutely changed everything. 2020 was very difficult.
Walk me through your decision to leave Larimer Square.
Number one, my lease was over. I had had eight five-year leases with Larimer Square, and one four-year lease prior to that. And when it came up that I was facing this next renewal, there was a new owner for Larimer Square. (Editor’s note: Asana Partners, a North Carolina real estate investment company, purchased the square from longtime owner Jeff Hermanson in December 2020 for $92 million.) And the proposal that they gave me to stay was not something I could commit to. I don’t really want to dwell on that.
I did everything that I could along the way to preserve the affinity that everybody had for Larimer Square, and I didn’t even tell people that I was moving until I started packing. I didn’t want there to be a panic. So I just kept doing stuff. We kept making things. We kept taking care of people. The last customer order went out on the 26th of March.
After 52 years at 1418 Larimer Street, did you feel a connection to the physical space?
I did until the day that we took the workbench apart. I had this monstrous workbench that was built out of four-by-fours and an eight-foot top on it. It was a massive thing–you could stand on it. And when we took that apart, it was just kind of like, Well, okay, it’s gone. The space is gone. And it’s okay. It’s all right.
Did you discover anything noteworthy in the move?
We found one order that was under one of the work desks way back in the corner. I think it was a bracelet–it’s hard to say what it was, because it’s damaged–but it had a silly little elephant that needed to be soldered. And it was from 1997. But the owner never called me to ask where it was. So I have no idea what to do with it.
How often do you think you’ll visit Larimer Square now?
Maybe never. Depends a little bit on what they do with the few tenants that are still there. If some of my friends are still doing business there, I may go down and actually see if I can help them with anything.
What’s next for you?
I am building a new workshop. It’s going to be private only. If people want to meet with me to have me do work for them, they need to email me for an appointment. I’m going to have a business office over on Hale Parkway and Clermont that will likely open next month. Two of my former employees—Jamie McLandsborough and Alex Boyd—have their own studios, and they’ll be working out of those places doing the same kind of services that I offered before. There are some things that I was really good at, and some things that each of these other two men were really good at. So we’ll still have this symbiotic relationship, where we can offer people the best of all these different techniques; it’s just not going to be in a retail store.