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It Takes a Greek Town

The plan to revive East Colfax: belly dancers, bazouki music, baklava--and blue sidewalks.

The defining moment in the history of Denver's Greek Town passed unnoticed a few months ago, when Takis Dadiotis went to city officials to complain about the sidewalk. The sidewalk was all wrong.

Dadiotis, proprietor of a Greek restaurant on East Colfax Avenue, had already managed to coax one block of streetscaping out of city officials as part of his effort to establish Greek Town, Denver's first officially designated ethnic community. The improvements included trees, pedestrian lights, metal benches and trash receptacles--painted blue, not the city's standard pine-green--and a multicolored Greek key pattern in the sidewalk. But the new sidewalk was gold and white, not blue and white, as Dadiotis had envisioned. This was particularly galling, since it happened to be the sidewalk outside Dadiotis's restaurant--the former Golden Bell Diner, strategically renamed the Greektown Cafe.

Dadiotis was adamant. The sidewalk had to be blue and white. Blue and white are the colors of the Greek flag. They are the colors of the whitewashed village of Santorini kissed by an azure Mediterranean sky, the colors of a sun-drenched Mykonos beach in the warm embrace of the Aegean Sea. The Greektown Cafe is blue and white. The sidewalk in Greek Town had to be blue and white.

"They say, 'Blue and white, that's not our theme,'" Dadiotis recalls. "I say, 'Yeah, but you never had a Greek Town.'"

The city agreed to turn the gold squares into blue ones. That was when Takis Dadiotis--"Taki" to his friends, "Pete" to his customers--knew that Greek Town was really going to be something.

"I do feel it's going to be a second LoDo," he says. "The city is behind us. The city council, the mayor--they were very cooperative. I had a little difficulty with the colors. I have to explain to them: It's marketing. It's something different."

For Dadiotis, the concession was one more step toward the realization of a dream he's been chasing for more than six years, ever since he took over the Golden Bell, practically across the street from another Greek restaurant, Pete Contos's Gyros Place. What would happen, he wondered, if the two Petes could persuade other Greeks to invest in that much-abused stretch of Colfax? Open more restaurants, a grocery, souvenir stands...chase out the bums and the hookers...get the city to put up a few signs...and what have you got? A blue-and-white, flaming-cheese-and-gyros, ouzo-tippling, foot-tapping, worrybead-clacking, money-pumping tourist attraction, that's what.

"I'm thinking more like what they got in Chicago or Detroit," Dadiotis says. "In Chicago, it took forty years to finish it, and it's the most beautiful thing Chicago's got. Now it's the thing to start a Greek Town in Denver. It's a metropolitan city, and why not? Every other place in the United States, they have a Greek Town. Why not in Denver?"

A special designation for a bustling ethnic neighborhood is hardly a new idea. New York City has its Little Italy; San Francisco has its Chinatown; even Columbus, Ohio, has its German Village. What is startling about Denver's Greek Town is that it represents the use of an ethnic label to further economic development along a battered retail strip that has little, if any, traditional association with Greeks or any other ethnic community.

Officially, Greek Town encompasses six blocks between Columbine and St. Paul streets; if you're heading east on Colfax, its borders are fixed by the blue-and-white "Welcome to Greek Town" sign across from East High School and the "Yasou" sign outside the Executive Inn, bidding farewell to the passing motorist. But the current Greek content of Greek Town can be counted on one hand: two restaurants, a bakery and the Greek Social Club, where a few old-timers gather to play cards and backgammon, eat loukamades and wash them down with thick, sweet coffee.

The rest of Greek Town consists of three antique stores, an electronics store, a veterinarian's office, a comics shop, a hair salon, a TV repair shop, a Greek-owned ice-cream shop, a pizza parlor, a Jamaican bakery, an Ethiopian restaurant, a gay bar, an outpatient clinic operated by the Mental Health Corporation of Denver, a postal service center, two houses (one used as a lawyer's office), an office building, a dilapidated motel, an abandoned Red Barn, several other graffiti-bedecked vacant storefronts and a couple of weed-strewn vacant lots. In other words, it's East Colfax, where struggling commerce meets up with desolation row.

For all that, establishing a Greek Town here makes perfect sense, insists Jim Peros, president of the Greek Chamber of Commerce. The Greek presence in the six-block area is actually greater than it appears, he says, since much of the property is actually owned by Greeks and more are thinking about opening businesses there.

Along with the local restaurant owners, Peros's group has spearheaded the effort to win official designation for Greek Town. The Greek chamber claims 200 members, the most visible and influential folks among Denver's Greek-American community, which is estimated to total about 6,000 people.

"We're not excitingly large, but we're pretty active," Peros explains, "and we're getting a lot of interest from various Greek businesspeople. I'm not going to pull your leg; not everybody in the Greek community was for the project. There were some people who were vehemently opposed to it being on East Colfax. But we did some research, and we found that the corridor we picked had more businesses and more land owned by Greeks or people associated with the Greeks, like the Ethiopians, than anywhere else in the city."

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