The Hill can arguably be considered the center of student life in Boulder, and it certainly boasts a veritable vibe that few can define but many find appealing.
And though there’s been some talk of revitalizing the Hill, there’s still something about the personality of the Hill that continues to attract students and Boulder locals alike.
Grey Hansen, a 23-year-old senior international affairs major, said he has been a Boulder resident since birth. Because he’s lived here his whole life, he said he probably has a different view of the Hill than most students.
“It’s definitely like a spot where college students get put away so they don’t have to interact with the town as much,” Hansen said. “It’s sort of seen as party central. All the buildings are more destroyed and old and it’s sort of a spot in town that’s kind of been taken over by college students. That being said, I think it’s one of the funnest places on earth.”
Over the years, the Hill has seen many changes in business and clientele, but the thing that has stayed the same is the general pricey, but decrepit feel of the place, Hansen said.
“It’s kind of funny how it looks like a ghetto, but there’s more money there than most third world countries,” Hansen said. “It’s gotten really expensive [to live there].”
Hansen said he used to live on the Hill but that since then he’s moved away because of expenses. The same seems to go for some popular ghosts of Hill businesses past.
“I think the rent should be lowered because a lot of really cool places there had to close because of rent,” Hansen said. “It was definitely sad to see Tulagi’s go, and now chains or franchises that can afford the rent are moving into these old cultural centers.”
But the one thing that seems to escape appropriation is just that ethos and distinction of the Hill. Hansen said he doesn’t think the Hill reflects Boulder sentiments or culture in the slightest.
“It’s like a little bubble within the bubble that is Boulder,” Hansen said. “The Hill atmosphere, I feel like it’s like a little California within Boulder. Boulder atmosphere is definitely different.”
Even so, Hansen was adamantly opposed to any attempts to change the feel of the Hill.
“I mean, if [the City Council] is gonna try and revitalize the Hill, what does the Hill stand for?” Hansen said. “It’s sort of the student hang-out spot.”
Mark Heinritz, one of the co-owners of The Sink, a Boulder edifice 80 years in the making, said he agrees that the Hill is definitively student-oriented.
“The Hill definitely has a unique vibe to it,” Heinritz said. “I think it retains a lot of the local character of Boulder. Students have really embraced it. It’s been their territory.”
Heinritz said he and his brother Chris, also a co-owner, have been there for over 17 years and while the Hill hasn’t changed much physically, the business mix has.
“There’s a lot less goods for sale and it’s much more food-oriented,” Heinritz said. “I’d say in the 90s the Hill definitely had a much more vibrant music and entertainment focus to it. People would come to the Hill to see music and that’s been lost. The Fox is the only remainder of that aspect.”
Despite that, there are some aspects that Heinritz said he would like to see changed.
“I’d like to see public perception of the Hill shift away from the 2000 era of ‘Oh, the Hill’s scary, don’t go there,’ to ‘Oh, the Hill’s cool, give it a visit,’” Heinritz said. “I don’t think the public perception matches reality.”
It’s that facet of the revitalization of the Hill that intends to broaden the appeal of the Hill, Heinritz said.
“Revitalization doesn’t necessarily mean redevelopment,” Heinritz said. “Revitalization would probably bring in a broader Boulder community. It would bring pride back to the Hill as a legitimate place to be.”
Anthony Merino, a 25-year-old general manager at Half Fast Subs, has been an employee there for five years. Merino said he thinks that while the Hill is primarily geared towards the CU community, it’s up to those who live and work there to keep it a safe and clean destination.
“The Hill’s let itself go in the sense that it’s up to us who are already on the Hill to keep it alive, keep it clean and keep people coming here,” Merino said. “The City Council in association with the university is trying to change the personality of the Hill. They want to make it in terms of a more friendly environment, but it’s a great area in Boulder that’s looked down upon for several reasons.”
Some of those reasons are that some of the businesses, like the tattoo parlor or the medical marijuana dispensaries, that have taken up residence there. But it’s establishments like that, and all the others around, that make up the concept of the Hill.
“That’s how it was built, and that’s how it’s going to survive,” Merino said. “Other than cleaning it up and making it more friendly to outsiders, [revitalization] is going to damage the Hill. And yes, there are tattoo places, and pipes and piercings and stuff, but that’s the market they’re catering to. There are 30,000 undergraduates across the street, and not all of them are medical marijuana patients or want tattoos, but we welcome them with open arms.”
This may not be the brightest time in the Hill’s history, but one of the worst things to do is chase away the students and personality of the Hill, Merino acknowledged.
“If we were to start focusing on the Hill and turning it into a Boulder spot and not a college spot, we might start to see places like The Sink not want to be around,” Merino said. “But do we feel that our only customers are college students? Absolutely not. We feel that the Hill’s just as much for all of Boulder as it is for the students.”
The most important thing is for everyone to work together to make the Hill a unified environment, Merino said.
“We have to work with the university and the undergrads who live on the Hill to remind them that this is their home too,” Merino said. “Whether or not [the students] care, there are people who do care. It might be their home, but it’s our town.”
Overall, it’s the combination of residents, students and the local Boulder population that cohesively constitutes that indefinable quality of Hill life.
“We’re just like a family,” Merino said. “The Hill’s a big freaking family, and yes [Half Fast Subs] is just another person in that family, but like everybody else we add personality.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sheila V Kumar at Sheila.email@example.com.