Recently, my work took me to Boulder, Colorado, a place I had last visited in 1973. By American standards it’s considered a small city (population less than 200,000); but by Chinese standards it’s more of a small town.
By any standards, it’s a lovely place to visit, to live and to work. Like its neighboring Colorado city, Denver, it is a mile-high city, situated at an altitude of some 5,300 feet, with the higher elevations of the Flatiron Mountains within easy reach. Winters bring cold temperatures, but the average year involves 300-plus sunny days, so even the snow melts quickly.
From the large expanse of solar panels next to the Denver International Airport, to the recycling trash basket in my room at the St. Julien Hotel, it is a very green place whose residents clearly place a high value on healthy lifestyles.
A walk through the downtown area, which includes a pedestrians’ only avenue with cute shops and restaurants, reveals a lot of bicycle shops as well as outdoor equipment and apparel shops. Skiing, hiking, biking, mountain climbing, kayaking, rafting and tubing, and fly fishing are all popular there.
Boulder seems to me to have more small independent retail and restaurant outlets — versus big national chains — than most comparably sized American cities or towns. Some of the big chains are present, but more of Boulder’s best-loved retailers, like Boulder Book Store (founded in 1973, the year of my last visit), and McGuckins Hardware (a sprawling store with 300 very well-trained and helpful employees), are local start-ups.
I even found an excellent bowl of “Zha Jiang Noodles” (zhajiangmian) at a tiny Chinese restaurant downtown, called Zhou Ma Ma’s. It was the real McCoy, and very delicious. I complimented the boss lady on the cooking, who turned out to be Zhou Ma Ma herself.
Boulder is an extremely dog-friendly place. Parks are full of people walking their dogs, dogs walking their owners, etc., and some parks have designated “no leash” zones where you can let your dog run free with other dogs. I went into one small retail shop where there were more dogs than sales people, all stretched out and happily snoozing on the floor.
In four days there I managed to do a fair amount of walking. In that time I would guess I saw less than 10 people smoking cigarettes on the street or outdoors, and of course none indoors, where it is banned. The St. Julien hotel has a sign in the rooms emphasizing how seriously they take being a strictly non-smoking hotel, and warning of a US$250 fine added to the hotel bill if guests are caught smoking even on the balconies of their rooms.
On the other hand, local newspapers have quite a few ads for Medical Marijuana Supply stores. This phenomenon is less than one year old, and was enabled by changes in Colorado State law which permit patients certified by doctors as suffering from certain chronic diseases to obtain medical grade marijuana as part of their treatment. There are nearly 100 such stores in Boulder now, although an outcry from parts of the community about their rapid spread has recently resulted in an official moratorium on additional new ones opening. My guess is the controversy over retail sales of medical marijuana will continue to be a lively one for some time, but I was struck by the speed with which retail sales channels have grown thus far in Colorado.
Boulder is a university town, and it is attracting quite a few new high-tech, IT and other types of companies to move to and invest in the area. Given its weather, natural beauty, highly educated work force, and lifestyle, it’s not hard to see why.
It’s also an extremely friendly place. It’s not unusual for strangers to smile or say hello on the sidewalk, and drivers routinely wave to pedestrians and stop to let them cross the street.
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