Boulder is made up of born-and-raised Coloradans, older folks who were here when the moniker “People’s Republic of Boulder” was first hung on the town and a whole lot of transplants that came for any number of reasons. Some fell in love — with a person, with the mountains, or both — and never left. Others moved in a month ago for a tech job and for others it’s all about the outdoor activities. It’s a college town. And, at the same time, a family town, a retirement area and a tourist destination.
If you really want to get a feel for Boulder today, there’s no better way than hitting some coffee shops and having a few conversations. The Laughing Goat and Ozo Coffee Company in downtown are great places to start. They brim with book-readers, headphone-wearers, texters and talkers.
“I’m a coffee nut. This was my sanctuary, my home away from home,” says Jimmy Foley, sipping his afternoon coffee at The Laughing Goat and reminiscing about when he first moved to Boulder.
Born in New Jersey, Foley found himself living in Florida with his mother in the 1990s. He was hoping for a job, but it never panned out. So, he looked to Colorado.
“I had a friend living in Boulder, and one in Denver,” Foley says. “They offered me a place to stay while I looked for a job.
“I said, ‘I’ll give it a year, if I like it I’ll stay’ — that was 25 years ago,” he says with a laugh, adding, “but I can’t get rid of the Jersey accent.”
Foley stayed for the people, and for the nature. According to his theory, they are dependent on each other.
“I’ve seen lots of people come here and say, ‘It’s beautiful, I want to move here,’” Foley says, including himself in this category. But then the reality sets in that you have to work and pay bills and take care of your family. “And then I think you can forget about the beauty even though it’s right in your face.”
That’s where Foley says the people come in: “I think there are many groups that help you come around to look at those things again — if you forget where you are.”
And where did he find these people to help him remember? Coffeeshops.
That’s where the majority of Foley’s friendships emerged. He would sit and pay his bills, or read a newspaper. Even write cards. And he would just start talking to people.
“I’m a really shy person, but I seem to open up more in Boulder,” he says. “People — that’s really what makes Boulder, not all the other stuff.”
“I think the Boulder Bubble is just kinda heaven on Earth,” says Mike Watkins, enjoying coffee and a bagel at Ozo Coffee. “I am out and about a lot, I travel a lot. I’m very proud of Boulder. I think it’s a great place to be from.”
Before moving to Boulder in 1998 with his wife, Watkins moved around a lot. “I’m a Floridian. I’m an Army brat, went to high school in Atlanta, college in upstate New York.”
When he first landed in Boulder, Watkins didn’t think he would stay. “I thought I was going to [leave], but my wife and girls really liked this area.”
Watkins stayed and his daughters attended high school in Boulder. Both are grown — one is an astronaut — and Watkins and his wife still call the area home.
“My wife really likes the weather,” he adds, “I like the business climate … We have the university, we have startups, we have people who are trust fund babies.”
Watkin muses that “the wealth creates a climate that’s like a bubble.”
“We are notorious for being this bubble,” he says, adding, “notorious in a good way.”
Teagan Walker, a barista at The Laughing Goat, acknowledges the complexities within the notorious bubble.
“There’s the total hippie-spiritual-happiness crowd, the super wealthy business crowd, and then there’s the old people who have lived here before it was even a town… In a way you get a lot of everything, but it’s also pretty similar.
“It’s not the place I would have chosen to grow up if it was up to me,” Walker says, “but it’s beautiful here, and there are beautiful people.”
Walker moved to Boulder from Illinois when she was 7 years old.
“This is my hometown,” she says. “I went away to a semester of college in Seattle” and then she came back. “Right now I’m home for a gap year.”
She chose to work at The Laughing Goat because “I thought it would be nice to work at some place I actually liked being.”
“I used to go to Boulder High and so I would come here sometimes before school and almost every day after school. It was my favorite hangout spot.”
Walker identifies as a local and then tries to define the term, saying, “I think a local is like someone who has lived in Boulder for at least a few years — they’re a part of the community, they know the scene.
“They know what Boulder’s all about,” she says, laughing — “it’s not like most places.”
“For a lot of people, local might mean that you come from that place — but not me,” Will Hollyer says over coffee at Ozo with close friend Jake Milstein.
The two are originally from New York and Milstein is currently visiting from Salt Lake City, Utah.
Hollyer just finished his undergrad degree and is spending his summer working and adventuring. “For people like me who only want to ski and climb and be outside, it’s awesome,” he explains.
Milstein agrees. “I’ve been coming back every couple months. I flew in three days ago, and I’m going to be here for like a month.” They laugh as they try to recall the number of times Milstein has visited.
“How many times — you think like seven or eight?” Hollyer asks.
“I’ve probably spent, like, two months visiting,” Milstein says.
For Milstein, Boulder is “freedom from time and a lot of different societal pressures.” And though he’s spent large swaths of time here, Milstein doesn’t consider himself a local.
“The only place I really consider myself to know the area would be two places — Salt Lake [City] and Snowbird [Utah Ski Resort].”
Hollyer, however, feels like a local. To him, being a local means “you know the people and places of a general region.”
Though he completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado Boulder, Hollyer says it wasn’t the school that originally brought him.
“The mountains,” he says, “and everything that comes with that.
“Boulder to me is… it’s like the holy land — the expensive holy land.”