Colfax Avenue, also known as U.S. 40, is the longest road in America. Stretching from Aurora to Golden, the 26-mile long highway has shuttled millions to and from work and recreational activities including rest stops at over 43 kitschy motels along the way. West Colfax, once a vibrant Jewish neighborhood with thriving family businesses on every corner, was an urban planner’s dream, an homage to walkability. Over the years, car-culture replaced feet, demographics shifted from gefilte fish to menudo, and what was a bustling neighborhood, was left with the remains of once cool, now seedy, motels and auto dealerships on every corner.
West Colfax, from Federal to Sheridan Boulevard, has been in the process of revitalization since the West Colfax neighborhood plan was introduced in 1987. In 2006, Blueprint Denver and the West Colfax Area Plan defined the neighborhood as an Area of Change. Three decades later the seeds of change have taken root.
After years of zoning, overlay and litigation battles, and all-around neighborhood angst ranging from density to parking to shade, the 100-year-old St. Anthony’s Hospital was demolished giving rise from its ashes to the now proud SLOANS. The lakefront development is close to completion with over 1,000 new residential units comprising rentals, townhomes, and luxury condominiums integrated with mixed use development of retail, restaurants, and office spaces. Spurred on by the success of this 20-acre site, condos like Circa West and 1515 Flats have popped up all over West Colfax.
According to the current data from REColorado for the area bounded by Sheridan, 17th Avenue, Irving and Colfax, sales of condominiums have skyrocketed in the area over the last year with a whopping 1,400% increase in listings closed, selling at 100% of their asking price. Prices per square foot have increased from $400 to $707, a 75.4% increase. Betty Luce of Nostalgic Homes Group and Compass noted, “The condo market is on fire, single family not so much.” Single family homes that were once the backbone of the neighborhood have experienced a modest 4.7% increase in their price per square foot from $298 to $311. That trend differs from much of the city, where condo sales have struggled and single family homes have continued to skyrocket.
The jutting angles of glass highrises soaring into the sky and the largely millennial residents provide a sharp contrast to the transient motels and unhoused population that still dot the strip. Throw in a pandemic, and the full-speed ahead transition hit a few potholes along the way. Rather than swerving, however, business owners along the West Colfax corridor have kept their eye on the road to recovery.
New restaurants like The Patio, Whole Sol Blend Bar, Mizuumi, and the much anticipated Odells Brewing Co. have joined ranks with early anchors of the reimagination roster; Sloan’s Tap & Burger, Seedstock Brewing, The Little Man Ice Cream Factory, Bros BBQ, Brew Culture, Classic Eats Deli and the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. They’re rubbing elbows with neighborhood classics like Sidewok Cafe, Viking, Frank’s Bar-B-Que, Taqueria Mexico, and Los Mesones. Pete Turner is excited to be a part of the growing menu. He hopes to open Illegal Pete’s by late August next door to the Little Man Factory as “an homage to the rich history of West Colfax and the inclusive future the neighborhood is now leading.”
Old-school businesses like Lake Steam Bath, Tobin’s Liquors and The Rose Lady that proffers services ranging from Kaya Cannabis to Illustrated Gypsy Body Art to bail bonds, legal and cremation services have deeper roots and keep West Colfax authentically “real.”
Dan Shah, Director of the West Colfax Business Improvement District partnered with businesses throughout 2020 to keep them from failing. “We awarded close to $500,000 to 38 WCBID businesses to date. Our business grants went to the full diversity of Colfax businesses, from auto repairs to tattoo studios, restaurants and ice cream shops.” He provided technical assistance for applications, provided step-by-step guidance on COVID management, expedited the expansion of outdoor seating, distributed PPE kits and face masks, and participated in COVID response councils to align City policy to small business needs and priorities.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges that he fought for was assisting the historic Lake Steam Baths with financing and a variance request for a return to fuller operations and re-opening in the face of a health department closure. Owner Amy Hyman said, “If you don’t morph with the virus you don’t survive. It has been a series of ups and downs with the city. We were able to provide massage services, but I finally got agreement from the state to rent out the bath privately for same-family households of 1-6 people…[Dan Shah’s] given me more support than any government agency. West Colfax actually gave me the grants. He’s like this angel of small businesses.”
The unifying message amongst proprietors has been the requirement for change to meet the pandemic head-on. Silver linings have occurred in spite of the stormy skies. One of those glorious moments was brought to the neighborhood by West Colfax’s own entertainment troupe, The Handsome Little Devils. “Project Joy Bomb” was conceived by Cole and Mike Huling as a pop-up parade to buoy spirits during the isolated days of stay-at-home orders. With wild costumes, music and inventive vehicles it is a sight to behold. They worked with the West Colfax BID and handed out free masks throughout the neighborhood. Joy Bombs have been such a huge hit that they have received an Arts in Society grant to continue it. Huling is intent on “marrying service and art as we head into the future.”
A new business, Duality Fitness, stretched its imagination during the shutdown bringing technology and innovation together to produce an at-home workout experience. Now that restrictions have moved to level yellow, they will be able to operate at 50% capacity. Owner Jen Sevcik is “more committed now than ever to make it to the flip side of this pandemic with a physical gym that is thriving for our community.”
Nick O’Sullivan, owner of Brother’s BBQ, explained their shift, “Typically the most profitable part of our business has been catering, which went to zero. We moved staffing into our stores and switched up our business model to have individually bagged lunches and a grab & go counter with outside picnic tables. Most importantly, we spent the year working with the community. We donated meals to the police, fire department, grocery store workers, and schools. It galvanized our team and gave our employees a sense that we are doing something bigger than us and giving back to the community.”
Luckily for neighbors and the surrounding businesses that benefit from it, The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is back in the saddle again. Running at 50% capacity, tickets are available online to ensure social distancing. For folks that hate scribbling orders in the dark, an added advantage to the online system is the ability to order food and drinks prior to arrival. The reopening date of BarFly, the theater’s bar, is still in question.
Sloan’s Lake Tap & Burger owner Juan Padro has helped give voice to the neighborhood from the beginning. His business acted as the hub for 8 highly successful Farm & Flea events on Raleigh Street this summer. While elbow-to-elbow events have been forced to curtail, Tap & Burgers socially distanced Superbowl party was a pure touchdown moment.
The Little Man Ice Cream Factory was pumping out events from swing dancing to fundraisers prior to shutdown. In their place, philanthropic projects kept the community united. Mask sales for the Colorado Sewing Coalition paid out-of-work women throughout the early days of the pandemic. Food, coat and backpack drives gave back to those in need. In support of Black History Month, 100% of Scoop for Scoop donations will be given to advocacy groups. Their business model, too, has changed with Grab & Go pints taking a lead over counter sales, and a newly planned curbside pick-up will launch soon. The highest priority on owner Paul Tamburello’s wish list is to fix the parking situation to enable greater access to businesses.
Shah, who has been advocating for pedestrian safety measures, is optimistic about the recent announcement of the Safer Main Streets Program aimed at improvements that will transform urban streets to make them safer and more accessible. $10M has been earmarked for West Colfax (and partially East Colfax). “The beauty of the grant,” says Shah, “is a deadline requirement for completion by 2024. It puts our broader vision of improving the pedestrian environment and our commitment to incorporating parking into the strategy a step closer to reality.”
What’s Next? West Colfax is Loved and Needs Love.
In spite of the pandemic, West Colfax is alive with hope. Ron Abbott, early settler of Seedstock, smiled, “We don’t regret for a single second our decision to locate on West Colfax.” Sevcik imagines the future, “From a business perspective, the walkability of West Colfax is still in need of some serious love. From the homeless population to the lack of parking to the need for more thriving businesses, more investment into West Colfax is critical. Residents want to feel safe and have access to the things they love. Pouring more into this area will absolutely have a positive effect on delivering a walkable and safe neighborhood to the community.”
Editor’s Note: The print edition of the paper incorrectly referred to Classic Eats Deli as “Masterpiece Deli.” We regret the error.