Road Trip: Did they build it? The small-business owners of Colorado’s Colfax Avenue

Bob Sacha & Zach Wise
The Ticket

DENVER—Originating in the hills west of here where Buffalo Bill was buried, Colfax Avenue runs downtown through Denver, near the federal courthouse where Timothy McVeigh was tried, and then heads east through Aurora, finally riding past flatland and into Kansas. With the first presidential debate of this election year happening in this city on Wednesday night, Yahoo News traveled to this main drag in search of small-business owners, the totems of Campaign 2012. What do they think of the who-built-it rhetoric of this campaign? Whom are they voting for? What issues would they like to hear Barack Obama and Mitt Romney discuss?

'It's steady. It's just like any other business.'

Don Novak, 40, owns GroundSwell Cannabis Boutique, a licensed marijuana dispensary. He has been in business for three years and has 13 employees serving patients who need a prescription to buy the product.

"We can't really deal with banks too much because we're risky," Novak says. "There's no way around that, and who could blame them? But access to capital, you know, would help this industry. "

'I don't feel like either of the last couple of administrations have been particularly favorable to small business.'

Paul Epstein, a 53-year-old former English teacher, owns Twist & Shout, an independent music store with 37 employees.

"Something that I fear now more than ever, is that the overall climate of the country is such that only large businesses, only established corporations, multinational or at least fully nationalized companies are going to get the attention of banks and those with their hands on Wall Street and the people with their hands on the money," Epstein says. "I'm scared that, that smaller business will not get access to those advantages."

'There's this constant fear that runs through the firearms community.'

Alan Samuel, 44 left a job at Apple Computer, moved to Colorado and opened Machine Gun Tours on West Colfax seven years ago. He has five employees.

"I just think people are uncertain right now," Samuel says." And I feel it here in the store. They'll tell you that when they come in here to talk to us."

He adds, "There's this constant fear that runs through the firearms community that if so-and-so gets elected, my firearm rights and ability to purchase things are going to be removed. We've had things like the assault weapons ban in the future and there's been talk of bringing it back."

'Probably been turned down by 10 different banks.'

Tina Pachorek, 42, has been in business for 11 years. She owns three Belgian beer cafes and an American craft brewery. She opened the Cheeky Monk on Colfax six years ago.

"Health care scares me," Pachorek says. "And I think a lot of the regulations that are going into place don't seem to be very positive toward small businesses. So I think I'm starting to get a little bit nervous about actually being an entrepreneur."

'Obama seems to be a good choice. But I haven't made a decision yet.'

Sung Hwan Kim, or Master Tiger Kim, emigrated from South Korea 35 years ago when he was 3 years old. His father, Grand Master Tiger Kim, opened a tae kwan do school on Colfax Avenue and ran it until he retired. Tiger Kim's Academy has three employees.

"For our business, I think the hardest part is trying to get loans or movable capital since, when we generate income, we put it back into the academy," Kim says. "There's not much income left. And sometimes, if we want to do something, you know, on a grand scale, it makes it real difficult."

He added: "The last time I voted, it wasn't for Obama. I think Obama didn't do too bad only because I recently was in the housing market. So I had bought a new place. And the interest rates were, you know, lower than I've seen them in a long time. So I think that was kind of a nice shock."

Bob Sacha is a multimedia producer, a documentary filmmaker, a photojournalist, an editor and a teacher. Zach Wise is an interactive producer, a filmmaker and a professor at Northwestern University. In March, Bob Sacha and Miki Meek drove Ohio's I-71 and talked to Republicans before Super Tuesday. In July, they traveled to Northern Virginia to talk to Mormons about what a President Romney would mean to them.