An Auspicious Alpaca Anniversary
By Sara Bruskin | photos by Lori DeBoer
What’s the secret to running a thriving shop on the Pearl Street Mall? Lidia Holl, owner of The Alpaca Connection, attributes her success in this highly competitive area to high-quality materials, unique merchandise and customer loyalty. November 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of her store, which has become an iconic component of the walking mall’s retail scene.
“We opened 30 years ago on Thanksgiving day,” Holl says. “It’s an especially nice anniversary because 30 is a big number, and Thanksgiving is the start of a big shopping season, so I’m really excited.” Thirty years for the shop actually marks 40 years for Holl, as she was trading in alpaca fleece clothing before she even had a store to sell it from.
While still a student at CU Boulder in the late ’70s, Holl started selling alpaca hats with earflaps to her friends. She had them shipped from Peru, where she grew up. Six years after she graduated, Holl heard that a perfect location had become available, so she opened The Alpaca Connection in 1988 on the same block where it stands today (a retail real-estate shuffle in 2010 moved it a couple of spots over to its current location).
Holl filled the shop with soft fabrics, fluffy alpaca figurines sporting real fleece, comfortable armchairs and sweet, felted wool flowers around the ceiling to create a warm and cozy atmosphere. While the warmth seems perfect for winter, Holl sees a large influx of customers in the summer, too. “I have a lot of summer wear with natural fabrics like cotton and silk from great companies like Chalet, Tempo Paris and Magdalena,” she says, “and summer tourists like to buy their winter alpaca clothes while they’re here.”
Many campers and skiers swear by this clothing, as alpaca fleece is remarkably lightweight, five times warmer than Merino sheep wool, less itchy, hypoallergenic, durable, water-resistant and moisture-wicking. It also doesn’t take on odors or pill with repeated wear. Some grades of alpaca fleece are said to be softer than cashmere, so it’s easy to understand the growing number of alpaca aficionados in town.
Holl designs some of the clothing herself, and works with a team of talented seamstresses to bring her creations to the racks. The women who sew for her also do custom creations and alterations for customers looking to get their favorite coat in a different color or size.
Holl says that the coats she carries often feature timeless, classic looks, which her customers can wear forever, but she also loves creating unusual, daring designs.
“I want to be unique and different,” she says, “and that’s what makes the mall special—if you’re going to have what everybody else has, then you’re wasting your time. You follow your heart, you follow your gut, but a big thing is listening to your customer.”
Many regulars at The Alpaca Connection have been shopping there for years, and Holl values their input and considers their priorities when she sources fabrics and garments: “You have to be very responsible and make sure everything is basically fair trade and use good principles when you shop because people take note, especially here in our town,” she says, “and those values are very important to me as well.”
Nearly all of Holl’s alpaca materials still come from Peru, which she returns to at least twice a year. “I visit and shop with my providers, whom I consider family,” she says, “and of course, I dedicate at least a week to visiting my childhood friends and my extended family, and savor all the delicious food that Peru is famous for.”
While Peru is still her main merchandise source, Holl also carries alpaca yarn from Boulder farmers to show her love and support for the local community. For 30 years now, that community has loved and supported The Alpaca Connection right back.
Here’s to another 30 years of comfort, warmth and style!
The Alpaca Connection (303-447-2047; www.thealpacaconnection.com
is located on the Pearl Street Mall at 1334 Pearl St., Boulder 80302.
It’s open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily, with extended hours during the summer and holiday seasons.