LEADERS & ENTREPRENEURS: Ty Fitzmorris, a renaissance man who dearly loves literature
It's quite clear why Ty Fitzmorris has had so much success in Prescott once you understand who he is and how he operates.
There are a lot of folks in this eclectic city who simply strive to encourage its wholesome growth while maintaining its small-town values and feel.
Fitzmorris feeds off such energy. More accurately, he channels that desire and entangles his own vision to fill what he believes are pockets of need within the community.
Following a formula he subscribes to that focuses on creating spaces designed to nurture the exchange of ideas, knowledge and creativity, Fitzmorris has gradually built a tightly knit network of businesses within Prescott's city center, each a success in its own right.
His first entrepreneurial venture involved craft beer, tasty food, live music, art and good company. It was The Raven Café, which he opened nearly 10 years ago and which has since become a hotspot for the young and old alike.
Then came the Peregrine Book Company about three years ago, which Fitzmorris takes particular pride and joy in (for reasons that he explains in the subsequent Q & A).
As for his most recent investments, he is on the verge of opening a guitar shop called Gray Dog Guitars and a nonprofit makerspace (shared studio space) called The Milagro Arts Center.
In each case, he said he's had amazing folks working with him very closely - almost functioning as partners - but he has served as the sole proprietor, or the primary financier in the case of the nonprofit.
In addition to his business savvy, he's a guitarist, a ceramicist, a magazine contributor and an avid reader.
What's more, he's a knowledgeable nature lover and is heavily involved with the Prescott College Natural History Institute, where he serves as an insect curator, is on the advisory council and has supported financially as a donor.
Surrounded by the many books stashed within the depths of the Peregrine Book Company, Fitzmorris described his passion for all things life and how they have fit into the intricate web he has spun within Prescott's welcoming community.
Undergrad in Natural Sciences Ecology. Started at the University of Colorado and then finished up at Hampshire College in Massachusetts.
I grew up in Bozeman, Montana. My dad now runs cows up in southwestern Colorado and he grows beef for The Raven and my mom passed away many years ago. My brother is doing amazing things in California. He's a professional skier, but he works on environmental issues primarily, such as deforestation, species laws and climate change.
What brought you to Prescott?
I fell in love with the forest first. I started out as a fire lookout with the Forest Service on Mt. Union. I spent two seasons up there. My last season was in the spring of 2002, a week before the Indian Fire. There was nobody in that fire tower that day because the replacement I had didn't work out. The fire was right there. I would have seen it in a heartbeat. It was so upsetting. It burned a friend of mine's house down.
I also came for Prescott College. That's a big part of why I moved to town. I'm a very, very serious believer in that school.
How many employees do you have for all of your businesses?
The Raven is the most; it's about 35. The Peregrine is about 15. Gray Dog is two. The Milagro Sound Studios, which is a recording studio tucked within the center, has one, but we're bringing on a second engineer soon. The Milagro Arts Center itself is currently three, but it's going up to ten in the next month.
A café, that's pretty normal, but why a bookstore?
I'm a lifelong bibliophile. I've been frequenting independent bookstores for my entire adult life and then some. I'm a fanatic about books. I've had to do a little reinforcement to the pillars that my house stands on because of my book collection. I've even built a new building to house books, so it's bad.
Also, I think that the process that I started with the Raven, I was trying to contribute intentionally to the meaning of progressive development of the community and then I thought, we don't have a bookstore, and those are pillars. They are far more central to how communities work. They are cornerstones of a community. Now don't get me wrong, we do have bookstores, which sell mostly used, but we didn't have new, where we hosted literary events, book clubs and covered some of the needs for toys for kids. We did have that with Barnes and Nobel about three years ago and you might notice those times kind of line up.
My favorite author, at this moment, is Michaela Carter, who happens to be my girlfriend. She got a major book deal with her first book and she just finished her second, and it is amazing.
What advice can you give to someone looking to be an entrepreneur?
It's important to first identify what a community needs that you want to be a part of; which includes identifying who else is doing it already, because your energy may be better spent helping them rather than starting another competing business.
Also, what I really, really would like to see is more people spending more time doing research before they get into business. Nailing down every aspect of your business plan before you start. And apply for loans. I know some of the locally owned banks are major engines of reinvestment in this community.
And then the last one is possibly the most enjoyable. It's not about the kind of business you make; it's about the kind of business the community helps you make. So the more you empower your employees, the stronger the business becomes. I think it's called service leadership. That's the term they're giving it these days.
What do you struggle with the most being a business owner?
It's time management and it's figuring out how much you can delegate to others. When things work, it's because I'm able to find somebody to give oversight to on that. The things that don't work, don't work for exactly the same reason: I haven't found somebody with that set of skills, so I end up doing it myself and it is, therefore, done less well because I end up doing it, frankly, because I'm also pulled in too many directions.
You seem to have a master plan with all that you are doing, would you care to share what that is?
Ultimately, I really want to reinforce the connection of the community with the natural world. I especially want to make sure there is a strong, vibrant arts community, because there is no vibrant community in this country that doesn't have that.
Follow Max Efrein on Twitter @mefrein. Reach him at 928-445-3333 ext. 1105, or 928-642-7864.