What appears to be a brand-new bar at 316 Willow St. in north Old Town looks nearly finished. Two men, one of whom is Todd Simmons, founder of local publishing company Wolverine Farm, work outside what will be this freshly-stained wooden building’s front doors, firing power tools to craft the parts for finishing touches before the bar opens next month.
Once Simmons pauses his work and shows off the interior, though, any visitor can see that this building will be so much more than just another place to grab a cold one.
Behind the bar-height counter on the first floor is classic letterpress and publishing equipment. Upstairs, a studio with a smooth wooden-tiled floor is lit by a row of east-facing windows.
This building will become the new headquarters of the Fort Collins literary community when the Wolverine Farm Publishing Co. Letterpress and Publick House opens next month.
Once it opens its doors, it will mark the completion of a vision Simmons has had since 2007. Local authors, poets and writers, including those that Wolverine Farm has published in its 13-year history, will have a place to run workshops, read their work to engaged listeners and enjoy beer and coffee while doing so. Other makers in Fort Collins will benefit from the new space, too, as it will feature retail space to promote their goods, according to Wolverine Farm’s website.
Simmons sat down with me inside his soon-to-be completed project Thursday for a discussion about his intentions with the new Letterpress and Publick House, how the Fort Collins literary scene has changed in recent years and the growth of his publishing company has helped local writers grow with it.
Q: What was it about Fort Collins that attracted you at first, and how has it helped you hit your stride, writing and as a publisher?
A: I was kind of recovering from a quarter-life crisis. I went to school for environmental science, worked for the Park Service and Forest Service for a few years, found that I didn’t really like working in that sort of bureaucracy. I was stationed up in Moscow, Idaho, and so at the time, I quit my job, broke up with my girlfriend, built a yurt and hit the road, basically. I had some good friends in Fort Collins and lived in their backyard for a while and wrote myself out of my conundrum.
I figured I wanted to devote my life to writing, and figured instead of waiting for people to publish me I would just start my own publishing company and publish myself. That’s how it started out, and I met some like-minded folks around town — this would have been early 2002. We decided to start up a newspaper, basically, so we started Matterzine at the time. It was a quarterly tabloid — fiction, non-fiction, community issues, community writing. It just continued to grow. In 2004, we decided to become a non-profit and go through that process. In 2005, we opened the bookstore.
Q: How about the reception you’ve had so far? Do you think people are really excited to get into this place?
A: Yeah, I think so. The business model, I guess, is a little unusual, because it looks and feels like a bar or coffee shop, but it’s more of an educational facility with really nice concessions. We’re pretty adamant about staying true to our mission: relating things to science, charitable, educational, literary and really engaging our community through those topics and offering workshops, classes, events and fundraisers.
People are going to come here for a reason. We are going to get some walk-by traffic that are just looking to go get a beer and that’s fine, but it’s our intent to have a place where the beer and the food and the coffee are in the background. It focuses on the things people are going to learn. I think it’s cool. I think people are looking for more ways to be engaged and more ways to be hands-on with their lives. People spend so much time online these days, and people spend so much time looking at things but not really doing as much. So I hope we are a place that can inspire and people can learn new things. The quote on the wall sums the place up perfectly.
We’re really looking for the well-rounded individual. Just like in literature, if you have a flat character, it really affects the story. But if you have a full, developed, round character, it really makes or breaks the story or novel. We kind of took that idea and superimposed it on a physical place.
Q: Do you think that part of your success with this idea of having a place to learn and, like you said, do things as opposed to just looking at them and hearing about them? Do you think that success is tied a little bit to Fort Collins being a college town, with a science and ag school in Colorado State University?
A: Our relationship with Fort Collins definitely reflected on what we were doing here, and our interests definitely lined up with Fort Collins. And vice versa, too. We published a book about bicycling because we like to ride bicycles as a staff and as volunteers. Our passions — we turn that into what it is that we do. I think it’s a symbiotic sort of relationship where it’s give and take.
Q: Talking to poets and CSU professors Matthew Cooperman and Dan Beachy-Quick, they were telling me they feel the literary scene in Fort Collins has really expanded and taken off in the past four to five years. Have you felt like you’ve noticed that difference at all in the writing scene becoming a little more nationally prominent?
A: There’s definitely tons of writers here. I think what they speak to is a lot of the writers that have been at work for 10, 15, 20 years in Fort Collins have achieved a lot of success in the past four to five years, so you’re starting to see the fruits of their labor.
Q: Anyone specifically?
A: Laura Resau, Todd Mitchell, Laura Pritchett, Bonnie Nadzam, Carrie Visentainer, certainly the writers at the University, Dan Beachy-Quick, Sasha Steenson, John Calderazzo. They’ve been working for a long, long time, but it’s just in the last few years that they’ve been gaining the recognition.
I think there’s always been a strong sense of literature, but it’s definitely come out of the woodwork a little bit more in the last few years. I mean, how many bookstores do we have now? Seven or eight? Whereas ten years ago, there were two or something. So we’re in the face of bookstores downsizing or disappearing, but that side of Fort Collins is really booming right now and it’s a good indicator of those interests and what the culture will support.
Collegian Assistant Sports Editor Sam Lounsberry can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @samlounz.