After nearly 70 years of operation in various forms, a beloved Colorado Springs institution will close its doors this month.
The Simpich Showcase will close on Dec. 23 and with it goes traditions and memories, especially around the holidays, when many folks get out their Simpich dolls.
Though they're not all focused on Christmas, the most recognizable Simpich Dolls are: delicate handmade carolers, roughly a foot tall with bright blue eyes, their mouths open in song. Or a Santa Claus adorned with a carefully sewn jacket with a fur collar, kind wrinkles around his eyes, with perfect red cheeks.
"They're happy. They're at peace," said David Simipich who now runs the family business, alongside his wife Debby. "They're communicating what Christmas is about. And, boy, do we need that."
Each doll is the unique vision of David's parents, Bob and Jan Simpich. The first pieces were made out of necessity in 1952. The couple couldn't afford to buy Christmas gifts, so they chose to craft dolls for loved ones instead.
They then began to sell the figures out of their home in Manitou Springs.
It wasn't long before a continuous whirlwind of creation and sales prompted a move to a larger home near Garden of the Gods.
"I don't ever remember our home not having dolls everywhere," David said. "And I always kind of respected that there were bottles of turpentine and all these fragile things and whittling knives ... very close to where I played."
They worked all year on Scrooges with gnarled hands, side by side with miniature Tiny Tims in various stages of completion. They sculpted little puddings and crutches, all ahead of the holiday shipping rush.
"There was this stuff everywhere and we had doll customers come over and, there was always the call, 'We have doll people coming over!' and everyone would rush around to try to straighten up, you know, get the vacuum out," he said.
"If you grew up in Colorado Springs, anytime between 1952 and 2007, Simpich Dolls are likely part of your story."— Leah Davis-Witherow, Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum
David, now 60 years old, helped with the production from an early age, as did his siblings. He remembers waiting for his sister to finish painting rows of miniature lanterns before they could play on Saturday morning.
"I was in charge of turning on the lights in the display cabinets because I wanted the dolls to really show off," he said.
As the business grew even more, the Simpich's moved their work to Old Colorado City and a warehouse nearby. For decades, visitors could stop and watch artists paint eyelashes and stitch clothing for each doll.
David said his parents resisted multiple offers to buy the business and mass-produce the works overseas.
"They weren't ever even tempted because that was not what they ever envisioned this to be," he said. " It was a very unusual kind of European-style enterprise of creating art."
In 2007, David's parents announced their retirement with the intent to stop production.
"... But all of their workers — every single one — stayed with them because when people found out they were closing, it just went crazy and they filled orders for two years after their announcement," David said.
They did eventually stop making the dolls. Jan Simpich passed away in 2014. Her husband Bob, in 2020.
"It's been a wonderful healing balm to be able to work on the dolls and to restore them and give them, hopefully, another chance to carry the traditions on for another generation."-David Simpich
Leah Davis-Witherow is the curator of history at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, which has a collection of hundreds of donated pieces, including three life-sized carolers, the only known to exist.
She said the Simpich family provided a funnel of tourism to the city for decades.
"Because they could only be found in Colorado Springs, that meant people who would visit the shop in Old Colorado City would purchase a doll and take it home, but we know one was never enough," she said. "They wanted to have a Simpich Doll family or maybe they wanted to have a Christmas vignette, or maybe at the birth of every child, they'd buy a new cloud baby."
The collectibles also exemplify a local passion, Davis-Witherow said.
"If you grew up in Colorado Springs, anytime between 1952 and 2007, Simpich Dolls are likely part of your story," she said.
That story is something David Simpich has worked to keep alive. Once production ceased, the Simpich Showcase storefront in Old Colorado City was repurposed as a museum showing the evolution of the pieces over time. Visitors can see the very first dolls, newspaper clippings about the family's success and molds from the production process.
The space also highlights David's own success; he's a skilled puppeteer, having traveled the country performing marionette shows featuring larger versions of his parents' creations. The showcase also housed a theater where he single-handedly performed A Christmas Carol and other shows. That was until the pandemic hit, followed by a flash flood that destroyed his props and sets.
"[That has] made it a strange time," he said. "I haven't done marionette shows since 2019 and I had to kind of move into another department when I knew I couldn't do the shows and explored the restoration."
He said doing restoration has been cathartic; touching up careful brush strokes and stitching.
"Just recently we had a piece come through that I had ever seen before - it was just a little caroler girl and the proportions were very different — but I still could tell my mother had done the head and painted it and done the clothes, '' he said. "It's been a wonderful healing balm to be able to work on the dolls and to restore them and give them, hopefully, another chance to carry the traditions on for another generation."
Simpich said he plans to continue his restoration work. He's also not closing the door on restarting his marionette shows. The storefront will be converted to a space for his sons to further their own careers in photography and videography.
Thanks to their skills, David plans to make videos about the dolls and his family heritage, moving his parents' art from the physical realm to virtual.
"I'm so thankful that that doesn't have to stop," he said. "The story is going to continue."
Visit the Simpich Showcase
- 2413 W. Colorado Ave., Colorado Springs, CO, 80904
- 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays.
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