Protecting Denver’s vibrant business scene

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We all have businesses we like to support because they have special meaning to us. For me, it’s a store filled with piles of books and board games.

Ever since I was little, Black and Read bookstore in Arvada has held a special place in my heart. Trips with my mom and stepdad meant looking through gaming books and dice. After the store expanded into the space next door, Black and Read filled it with all forms of music — CDs, vinyl and even a few eight-tracks. My dad would happily spend hours sorting through used CDs for his favorite artists.

Now, as an adult when I go to Black and Read, I spend time going through the overly stuffed bookshelves. I collect international cookbooks, and most of my collection has come from Black and Read. I also found old copies of Ansel Adams books on photography there.

I love the store for its used-book smell. For the edgy newspaper and photo clippings taped to the register. But mostly, I love walking into the store and remembering what it was like to be a kid and being pleasantly overwhelmed by piles upon piles of books.

In this issue, you’ll find two stories on local businesses.

In one, we asked locals about their favorite neighborhood restaurants. We found that, while people do enjoy eating at those restaurants for the food, they also love going to them because they know their money is supporting someone living here in Denver. What started as a fun story getting to know local unsung restaurants quickly became a story on how residents band together to support their neighborhood businesses.

The other business story is part of our ongoing Growing Pains series. We wanted to ask these questions: How has development and construction in Denver impacted its local businesses? What happens to a neighborhood when those businesses close?

In recent months, Denver has started to see some of its legacy businesses teeter on the edge of closing. Most recently, Tom’s Diner and the Bonnie Brae Tavern have both filed for non-historic status, which makes it easier for a building to be demolished. Another longtime bar, Shelby’s Bar & Grill, closed in June after 40 years in business. Shelby’s location first opened as the Pink Lady bar, and the building had been standing since 1906. The property is set to be demolished later this year for new condo construction.

For Tom’s, the story is not quite over.

Neighbors applied for historic status for the building, which would make it very difficult for a building to be demolished. The Landmark Preservation Commission with the city unanimously decided last month to move the application forward to council, something that rarely happens when a building owner is opposed.

Bonnie Brae Tavern’s application for non-historic status moved forward without opposition.

Local businesses not only help the fabric of Denver’s economy, but help to create community. Many local businesses owners help in community events or fundraise for different causes.

Some businesses, such as the Whittier Cafe at 1710 E. 25th Ave., transcend neighborhood boundaries. They carry cultural significance for minority groups, such as Denver’s black community in the case of the Whittier Cafe. Local businesses, in the words of Whittier’s owner, Millete Birhanemaskel, create a “place of healing.”

Openings and closings are a natural cycle of business. But some residents fear the big boom of development will kill the mom-and-pop stores that make Denver, Denver.

One thing I’ve learned in writing for Colorado Community Media is that Denverites love to support their local businesses. In our Growing Pains series this month, I met with people devising different solutions to bring in more customers in spite of large construction projects. It gives me hope that Denver will not become a land of chains, and that the vibrant landscape of local business will survive a little longer.

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