Smith came to Western State Colorado University from San Antonio, Texas, to play basketball. Although he didn’t end up joining the team, he stayed for the university’s academics, community and environment.
However, Smith didn’t settle for just enjoying Gunnison —he decided he wanted to play a role in its growth, too.
Between his freshmen and sophomore years, Smith built a business from the ground up. The café, named The 808 after the building’s address, sits in the Meadows Shopping Center near City Market.
“It’s a social hub. We serve hookah, tea, snacks and things like that, nothing too big ... during the week students will go there to study since it’s a lounge, but during the weekends its more of a party scene,” Smith said.
Often, Smith combs Gunnison for talented, if unknown, acts to play at The 808, adding to the welcoming, close-knit city atmosphere.
“Bringing bands and gigs in is my favorite part of owning the business, because I get to see the local talent of Gunnison and talk to musicians to see what their passions are, why they do it,” Smith said.
On Sundays when he cleans up from weekend traffic, he lends the space to a local band for rehearsal.
“I feel pretty good about it … I’m giving [the band] a place to get back together and do something that they want to do,” Smith said.
The job isn’t easy though. Smith said he has learned a lot on the fly.
“The only way you’re going to grow is by going out and trying to do something and failing … you really have to make a leap into the things that you don’t know in order to learn. Often, doing that will make you feel stupid,” Smith says. “I feel stupid a lot of the time because I’m always trying to figure out new things.”
Smith’s contributions to the community go beyond his business; he is a part of Western’s Academic Leadership Program (ALPS), which requires regular community service throughout the entire school year.
One such service project involved teaming up with the owner of Gunnison’s OffCenter Designs, Kirsten Dickey, to renovate a dilapidated house for a family moving from Compton, Calif to Gunnison.
“Gunnison faces a lot of poverty; a big portion of Gunnison is below the poverty line… [The family] could only cover air fare basically,” Smith said.
Smith has been involved in community service for years; he credits his hometown basketball coach for teaching him to enjoy volunteering. He even received a personalized letter from President Barack Obama for completing more than 120 hours of community service year his junior year of high school.
Smith says he combines service with his own interests to keep it from feeling like “work.”
Still, time is a limited resource and no one is more aware of that universal truth than Smith, as he somberly contemplates, “There are only 24 hours in a day and that’s why I wish there were 48 … if only there were 48.”
Story by Michael Feng
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