The Vail Valley’s John and Patrice Cogswell are entering a new chapter in their lives
Longtime owners of the Squash Blossom and the Cogswell Fine Art gallery are retiring
VAIL — John and Patrice Cogswell have made the Vail Valley their home for 43 years. Their arrival was almost an accident.
The Cogswells, until recently the owners of the Squash Blossom and the Cogswell Fine Art gallery, came to Vail in 1976. The couple was running a store in Colorado Springs — thanks to John’s uncle buying a large collection of American Indian jewelry and art.
But the couple had skied in Vail, and John’s brother lived in town at the time.
“John would say we should live here,” Patrice said. “I kept saying, ‘It’s such a little town.’”
In October of 1976, John came to the area on a hunting trip. From a pay phone, he called Patrice saying, “You’re not going to believe it, but I put a bid in on a space in Vail.”
Not long after came another call: “They’ve accepted. We’ve got to be up here in two weeks.”
And so the Cogswells’ Vail adventure began.
Easing into retirement took a bit longer.
“A year ago last week, I said, ‘Let’s sell the store,’” John said.
After talking with several prospective buyers the Squash Blossom is in the hands of former employee Kevin Magner and his wife, Hillary.
John said he’s confident the Magners will run the store with the same philosophy of creating bonds with both customers and artists.
Not sitting around
For now, the Cogswells are looking forward to some time off. But don’t expect either one to just start rattling around the couple’s home overlooking Lake Creek. There’s too much else to do. There are four grandchildren to enjoy, and now there’s time to hike, bike or ski.
The Squash Blossom opened at about the same time American Indian art and jewelry were becoming more widely known.
John credits fashion design Ralph Lauren with bringing broader attention to the genre.
But getting in early also meant the Cogswells had to find their own way in that world.
John’s uncle had bought the store-starting lot of art and jewelry from a trader.
“I wanted to find out the trader’s source,” John said. “Our goal early on was to go directly to (artists).”
Discovery, and education
Patrice recalled that the couple was on the road about every three weeks, going from reservation to reservation, searching out both items and people.
“We were able to sit at the kitchen tables of homes, and in trading posts,” Patrice said. “We never have had anything manufactured.”
But with artists found, the Cogswells also needed to make sure they brought to Vail items people wanted to buy.
Patrice said the process of discovery also led to educating customers about items and artists. Artist Earl Biss helped build his reputation by putting items into the Cogswells’ Vail galleries.
Through it all, the Cogswells have operated the Squash Blossom from its original location. The storefront has three large bay windows. Natural light pours in, and it’s a great place to watch both people and the alpenglow in winter’s early evenings.
“I don’t know how we got such a beautiful property,” Patrice said, attributing the store’s long run to both luck and hard work.
As with any long-term business, the Cogswells have had to ride out some tough times. When the national economic slump that began in 2006 hit the valley, the staff had to be trimmed, and sales were soft for a time.
But, Patrice said, John took a philosophical view of the downturn: “John said, “I think we’re the luckiest people — we can just go skiing and wait for things to change.’”
As the economy recovered and business picked up, tastes have started to change. The large log structures built in the 1980s, particularly in Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch, are slowing being replaced by more modern, minimal structures and décor. Some of the items the Cogswells sold to clients are now being sold back by the children of the original buyers.
That, like moving on from the Squash Blossom, is just another way to mark time’s passage.
“It’s important to recognize the cycles in life, when it’s a good time to move,” John said. Now, time that used to be spent in the shop can be spent on the hill, or trail, or in the arms of the grandkids.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2930.