“I think I’ve cried at least twice today,” Chelsie Zoller chuckles wryly. “The thought that life in Carbondale is going to go on without us— and we know how awesome life is here— we know what we’re missing. I’m sad about leaving friends and community and our people. That’s the hard part of saying Goodbye.”
“The closer you get to it, you start having your Last This, your Last That.” adds her husband, Mark. “For me, it’s been a lot of Last show with this band, Last show with that band. Last work out at the gym. Last radio show, last week at work or whatever it might be. It makes you really appreciate it and soak it in while you can, while you’re here, knowing that a week from now, we’ll have stepped into a whole new chapter of life.”
With rising prices and shrinking square footages, the Zollers have finally pulled the plug on their Bonedale dream. As of Mountain Fair, the last Sunday of July, Mark and Chelsie left Carbondale to start new lives in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.
Chelsie and Mark’s housing dilemma isn’t unique.
We Carbondalians have been watching our friends and family play the rental shuffle for years: landlord sells home or landlord raises rent. Couples try to live together in their own digs, rent goes up. Consider having kids, rent goes up more. Finding a new place in our market? Word of mouth, sheer luck, or shit out of luck. Eventually, people get squeezed out.
The Town is conscious of this. Interviewing for a different story on the Creative District’s live/work ArtHousing efforts, Town Manager Jay Harrington shared his own observations on housing here. Taking his son to high school sporting events in New Castle or Rifle, he noticed athletes and families from opposing teams sharing hugs and hellos, “like a family reunion,” as he described it. The opponent team players had lived in Carbondale at one point, too. Harrington recognizes the pattern for what it is. Communities change, evolve; that’s just capitalism.
There’s more to this than economics.
Social capital broadly refers to those factors of effectively functioning social groups that include such things as interpersonal relationships, a shared sense of identity, a shared understanding, shared norms, shared values, trust, cooperation, and reciprocity– Wikipedia
It’s a loss to communities when people like Mark and Chelsie Zoller leave. Their very presence brought a value to Carbondale that we are losing.
“A big part of what I do, outside of my work with Ascendigo, is music. Playing it, being a part of the music community that’s a really tight-knit, really talented, vast musical community for such a small town– having come from Chicago. Playing a lot there, moving here, where I didn’t know anyone. Sure enough, I was drawn to all the right people immediately. After five years of doing different projects and working on things and being the drummer for what I think are three of the best bands in the valley– The Davenports, Pearl & Wood and Let Them Roar. It was fun to be a part of it and feel connected to that creative energy that runs through this town. To be considered a part of that community has been great for me. To consider leaving it is equally sad. All this stuff I’ve worked up to and then it’s gone.”
Mark was also a volunteer deejay with KDNK for almost four years. His radio show, “The B-Sides”, aired Saturday mornings and had a super strong following.
“It was one of those things, coming from the city– Chicago is my hometown and where my family and good friends still reside. I never felt as connected— I knew when I left Chicago, Chicago would never miss me. I knew I was one of many. You’re pretty anonymous there. This is the opposite. At KDNK you get tied into the heartbeat of the town and you consider yourself a character of the town. It’s like the Simpsons; everyone plays a very unique role in what they do here, and I consider us to be two of the characters.”
At 6′-4″, Mark was also a notable regular at the Sopris Crossfit box with Chelsie, an impressively statuesque 6-footer. Seeing them at the box was always an uplift– the Crossfit culture is one of mutual support and inclusivity, despite the extreme levels of physical effort involved. Working that hard collectively gives rise to an incredibly close community. You see each other power through stuff and watch each other break– amid cheers and shouts of support. The Zollers found “their people” and a recreational family of sorts within weeks of moving here.
“We’re so tight with Sopris Crossfit. Can we match a box like this there?” Mark wonders.
“When we got here, we kept seeing Crossfit signs everywhere!” Chelsie marvels. “There was a box in every town! We’d never even heard of it or done it, but when you’re unemployed and you move to Colorado, you want to get in shape. We walked in the door and had no idea what we were walking into. Now, I’ve cried the last three days in a row, saying goodbye to everybody.”
In addition to Crossfit, Chelsie found her Bonedale groove through classes at the Carbondale Clay Center and her job at Phat Thai. Her role with Phat led to a seat on the board of the Carbondale Tourism Council, where she quickly tapped the larger zeitgeist.
“Carbondale’s got a really strong sense of community, so therefore, you have a lot of opportunities to volunteer. Whenever somebody wants something to happen in this town, they usually have the support to do it; they can rally the troops just putting out that public cry,” she says. “Whether that’s word of mouth, the Sopris Sun or the Roaring Fork Swap, that Facebook page that’s taken over all our lines of communication! It’s easy to get sucked in,” she laughs, ticking off the nonprofits and volunteer efforts she’s engaged over the years. The girl got around!
Chelsie’s ties to Carbondale are lifelong.
“As a kid, I used to come out here in the summers. We’d road trip from Minnesota. My mom worked for the Holiday Inn, so we’d stay at Holiday Inns along the way. We’d come here for a week or so. When I got older, my mom flew me out to get me away from my brothers for a couple weeks. I’d stay with my godmother in Missouri Heights and do all the Colorado things. Then she and I and her daughters would road trip back to Minnesota to bring me home.”
Think of all the road trips of your own life and how connected you feel to those places and memories. Now imagine getting to move there!
Watching Main Street over the years, working the restaurant scene, Chelsie saw an unmet opportunity for an overflow breakfast and brunch cafe. As a complement to existing institutions like The Smithy and boutique eateries like Silo, Chelsie was eager to get back to her roots as a pastry chef. She and Mark also discussed a relationship between her cafe and Ascendigo, where Mark was the vocational director, connecting employers and autistic people.
“There are pretty standard sets of instructions to baking. She could have set up a part of her kitchen to employ people on the autism spectrum.” In addition to financial benefits from government grants, Mark explains, “she would have gotten great employees out of it, life-long employees who were willing to work, very loyal, and who are very exact and precise in the way that they do that type of thing– which is what you need when you’re following recipes.”
Running a cafe has been a dream Chelsie’s hustled for her entire life. Crunching the numbers, though, she’d pretty much have to charge seven dollars for a croissant to compensate her staff fairly. Not a sustainable model for Main Street. She’s not giving up her dream and is eager to explore options in the Twin Cities.
“It’s been a mission of mine since I was a kid: I wanted to be a chef. I went to culinary school for pastry; worked in restaurants– I started serving illegally when I was 13!” she laughs. “I was really tall when I was young! My mom’s friend owned a diner and I looked like I was 16.”
Chelsie and Mark both recognize that it is possible to make a life in Carbondale.
But at what cost? For them, there’s simply more opportunity in a bigger city. A lower rent with more space, in case they choose to grow a family. In the Twin Cities, they’re also closer to their own families. They’ll be able to find jobs that pay livable wages so they can do simple things like, hey, how about a vacation?
“It’s beautiful here, and we love it, but we also haven’t gone on a vacation in four years!” laughs Chelsie. Just saying that aloud, and considering the possibility lights them both up for a moment.
“If we were to come into money or find a place that isn’t as financially taxing, we know that our problems would not go away, but we’re like, ‘It’d be nice to have a different set of problems!'” Mark laughs.
When Bonedale | Amplified created the Housing Series, the intent was to shine a light on a need and possibility in our community. It seems so crazy to have homes stand empty most of the year when fantastic, valuable, creative people can’t find housing. It seems crazy to have a single adult living in a three bedroom home, lonely and rattling around because they can’t imagine having “to put up with” other people. There’s such a need here, and so many solutions, and yet every month or so, a friend or two will reach out expressing an urgent need for housing.
Discovering that Chelsie and Mark were leaving was a personal blow for me. We didn’t hang out, share dinner, make plans together. But I love what they represent. I watched them bust their butts in Crossfit, a wholesome, healthy, loving couple (kinda rare!). Chelsie was almost always the tallest, brightest beam of sunshine at Phat Thai with that warm grin; always greeting me by name. I loved watching Mark perform, eyes closed, losing himself in Pearl & Wood or crushing it with the Davenports and that whole crazy cast of friends– some of whom were a barista and artist, an attorney and runner, a climber and podcast dynamo. The Zollers had created a rich life filled with terrific people, and that rippled outward.
Last summer, I got to spend an evening with both of them, cruising the campgrounds late-night at the Palisade Bluegrass Festival. There’s a huge Carbondale contingency there, and to watch them together that night and share in it with them was pretty special. There’s a lotta love in there.
People say it’s hard to make friends as an adult. I think it’s far easier. In a grown-up world, we can detect integrity, sense of humor, commitment, authenticity. We can see the people who sparkle. With our own motivations, we can simply reach out and make it happen. And I didn’t do that. I assumed I had all the time in the world.
Is this really a housing issue?
I don’t know. But standing in the back of KDNK, listening to Mark announce they were leaving, the needle scratched across the record for me. Will Carbondale keep on moving without them? Sure. Will Team Zoller build new lives in the Twin Cities? Hell, yeah. Perhaps they couldn’t find sustainable housing and perhaps Main Street can’t support $7 pastries. And perhaps this is just an homage to really good people.
The kinda people that make a community feel like a home.