Paul Winton, the new owner of Motherlode Liquors in Rico, poses with his assistant Frank in front of the store's growing stock of craft beers. (Bria Light/Telluride Daily Planet)

The neon “Open” sign blinked back to life last week in the window of Rico’s liquor store, Motherlode Liquors, after closing its doors last year. Now under the new ownership of Paul Winton, the main street purveyor of boozy beverages is back in business, providing the perfect pairing for that steak dinner or a refreshing brew for a lazy afternoon by the river.

“We’re in the business of making memories,” Winton reflected, smiling. “I just had a 75-year-old gentleman from Arkansas get the Weihenstephaner lager, which is from the oldest brewery in the world. He wanted it to go sit with his wife by the river and hang out. To me, that imagery was magic. It’s like, yes, go enjoy yourself.”

Winton, who began working in a liquor store as a college student, didn’t discover his passion for the vast field until he began working in the industry in Telluride, first under Wine Mine owner Steven Craig and later at Fred Latimer’s main street shop Telluride Liquors.

“He's the one who taught me what I know, gave me the tools to realize that this was exciting,” he said of earning his stripes under Craig’s tutelage. “Then I got the opportunity to work for Fred Latimer. That’s where I got to see the other side of the business, the purchasing, pricing, what it takes to run a small bottle shop.”

Rico, with a population of fewer than 300 residents, boasts a small handful of local businesses, with seasonal flows of road-trippers heading through Colorado that boost sales, as well as a dedicated local community. Motherlode Liquors, formerly owned and operated by David Fabian, provided libations for thirsty residents and travelers for nearly 23 years before closing its doors last October. Winton decided the time was right to take the reins and give it a go.

“It’s an opportunity to do what I love,” he said, noting the perks of living two minutes from his workplace and being able to bring his assistant Frank, a stocky French mastiff, to the office.

“Plus,” he added, “Rico is rad.”

The community has shown enthusiastic support and appreciation for the reopening. A recent Facebook post announcing the soft opening garnered dozens of supportive comments, including one commenter who gushed, “Praise the Lord!” while another wrote, “Thanks for breathing more life into our tiny town. You got support.”

Fabian, the former owner, called Winton the “town hero.” 

“He’s really good for Rico,” said the septuagenarian and longtime Rico resident. “The Motherlode is alive and breathing again.”

While Winton is currently in the process of ordering his full stock, “the beer is cold” and the wine and spirits are on their way. The shop will offer a diverse array of wine, beer and spirits, with a commitment to offering something for everyone, from wine connoisseurs searching for that perfect pairing to the post-work six-pack seeker.

“The craft beer has been immensely more popular than my domestics, which surprised me,” he said of sales since opening. “I love selling wine. Beer is fun but wine is my favorite. So the requests from wine drinkers have really blown me away. I think some of the best chefs in all of Colorado live in the Telluride area right now,” he said, adding that coupling the right dish with the right beverage can really elevate the experience.

Winton doesn’t plan to undertake a drastic overhaul of the Motherlode, preferring to adopt the well-loved shop as is, with the exception of a new coat of paint and some touching up here and there. He kept the shop’s previous name, and plans to keep the place similar to its previous iteration. With all the flux and commotion of the year, he looks forward to maintaining local ownership of the downtown storefront and to serving the community.

“In the time of COVID, and real estate sales and public lands, I thought it was imperative that someone who lived here would keep the doors open,” he said. “At the end of the day, I really want this to be a source of pride for the community.”