You can’t drive to Steamboat Springs, Colorado without having your curiosity piqued by F.M. Light & Sons. Every road that leads to the Western Slope mountain town is sprinkled with the infamous yellow, old-school billboards advertising $4.98 kids hats, Tony Lama boots, Levi Jeans, and more.
5th Generation Owned & Operated
The more than 100 year-old mercantile store is legendary in Colorado. And for many good reasons. But perhaps the best reason is that it is owned and operated by a fifth generation member of the original Light family. (And fourth generation Coloradoan!) Keeping a business operating is tough, but it is rare to find a business pass from generation to generation, let alone multiple generations. The Family Firm Institute reports only 3% of all United States family-owned businesses survive to a fourth generation. So you can imagine how few family businesses see a fifth generation. F.M. Light & Sons is not only an important part of Colorado’s history but also an important part of American history.
The Beginning of F.M. Light & Sons
In April 1905, Francis Marion Light, along with his wife, Carrie, and seven children (ages 11 months to 17 years), arrived on the Rio Grande Railroad in Walcott, Colorado from Ohio. They traveled by stagecoach to Steamboat Springs, and seven months later, on November 9, 1905, Light and his two sons opened F.M. Light & Sons. The first day’s receipts totaled only $11.50, and the second day was even less. At first, the store sold shoes, men’s suits, and Stetson hats. Today, F.M. Light & Sons sells most any western apparel of which you can dream.
The First Pop-Up Shop?
During the Great Depression, Light remained undeterred; he hit the road and may have created the original pop-up shop by bringing the store to his customers at their farms and ranches. Light’s sons, Olin and Clarence, alternated traveling with merchandise as far north as Jackson Hole, Wyoming, west to Utah, and south to Aspen.
What’s With the Yellow Billboards?
Clarence Light is credited with the yellow-sign marketing idea. In 1928, F.M. Light & Sons erected 160 signs within a 150-mile radius of Steamboat Springs. The signs numbered 300 before more than 150 of the signs were removed due to the highway beautification act supported by Lady Bird Johnson. Today, many of the signs sport bullet holes from more than 70 years ago when Colorado was a little wilder. The remaining signs are considered historic, and each one is registered with the State of Colorado.
Piece of My Past
My first job was at F.M. Light & Sons when I was in middle school. I will always remember how nervous I was when I interviewed with Del Lockhart (one of Light’s great grandsons) on the office platform from which you can peer across the entire store. I continued working at the western apparel shop off and on throughout high school. One summer I learned how to steam and shape felt hats to customize them for customers, and another I became an expert at fitting cowboy (and cowgirl) boots. But my favorite part of working at F.M. Light & Sons was working in the backroom. Reminders of the past – the days of the Wild West – could still be found. The exit, for example, opened to an alley nearly halfway above the floor, a result of years and years of paving the once dirt roads.
“Outfittin’ the West for over 100 years” – F.M. Light & Sons
Next time you’re in Steamboat Springs, or even Northern Colorado, cowboy up your style with some western wear at F.M. Light & Sons. And even if you have all the western apparel you need, go and check out this legendary piece of Colorado history.