Column | Patrick Brower: A taste of the true Christmas past in Granby |

Column | Patrick Brower: A taste of the true Christmas past in Granby

Patrick Brower
A post card shows John W. Ricci dressed as Santa during a Christmas party at Ricci’s Columbine Café in Granby. Before Interstate 70 was built, when U.S. Highway 40 was the main road in Colorado to ski country and the Colorado mountains, the party was a renowned Granby Christmas tradition. The back of the card states: “Santa Visits Granby, Colorado on Scenic U.S. Highway 40 and North Pole Avenue. This community effort is the high point at Christmas for the children of this gateway town to Colorado’s playground, when Santa visits Ricci’s Columbine Café (now the Azteca restaurant) to give the kids an evening to long remember and to look forward to next year. TO ALL A MERRY CHRISTMAS.”
Patrick Brower/Courtesy image

There’s a memory of a Christmas past in Grand County that reflects the true spirit of the season.

It’s a memory of John W. Ricci and how he used to make Christmas a magical time for the children of Granby. The adults of today who were children at that time still remember fondly how “Ricci,” as he was known, was a real and figurative Santa Claus for all the children of town.

Imagine Granby as a town at half the size it is now. At 800 people, it was a place where just about everyone knew everyone else. It was before the days of massive growth at ski areas and resort towns. Granby and Kremmling were still the main towns of the county.

Ricci owned and operated Ricci’s Columbine Cafe at the corner of U.S. Highway 40 and Fourth Street. It was the place to meet and greet and eat in Granby.

He was a voluble and personable man who could be termed a town “character” (but in the positive sense of the word), and he adored children.

He would die at 91 in 2005 never having had children, but during his days in Granby he made up for that void in his life by adopting the children of Granby as his own.

And Christmas time each year was when Ricci demonstrated that spirit.

People remember how Ricci would hitch up one of his beloved horses to a sleigh. He’d dress up the horse with antlers and garments so he’d look like a reindeer, complete with jingling bells on the harness. Ricci would fill the sleigh with presents and he’d head out into town.

At 90 years old Ricci remembered his trips.

“There was more snow then in town,” he said. “It was easy to drive that sleigh all around town. I’d stop at every house where I knew there were children.”

He’d clamber down and go to the door to dispense his gifts. He’d be dressed as Santa Claus, but somehow the children knew it was Ricci.

“I’d give presents to all the kids, rich or poor or inbetween,” he said. “There were no favorites and I didn’t want to single any of them out, you know.”

His Christmas spirit from those long ago days was also reflected at his cafe on Granby’s Main Street. Every year for many years he’d host a large Christmas party in the Columbine Cafe and every child and parent in town was invited for free food and lots of Christmas fun. He’d preside over the event as a tall and lanky Santa Claus.

And of course, everyone, even the children, knew it was Ricci.

A famous postcard was made that depicted the scene of the Christmas party at Ricci’s Columbine Cafe. It appears with this article.

This would have been mostly in the ’60s and early ’70s, before Granby and Grand County became a “resort-rural” community. Then it was mostly just rural.

Why’d he stop?

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “The town got bigger. I got older. I sold the cafe,” he said.

All that happened during another time — another era.

But Ricci continued to be a friend to the children of Granby; right up until the day he died. He still gave children rides on his sleigh before Christmas. He still let kids be around the animals at his little menagerie on County Road 60 right outside of town.

Grown adults who were children then still remember with fondness what could only be called John Ricci’s Granby Christmas — a memory of a Christmas past.

Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative and the former managing editor and publisher of the Grand County Newspapers. He offers free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached by calling 970-531-0632 or at

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