Shape Up Or Ship Out

Fighting neighborhood crime is just the tip of the iceberg for Capitol Hill's Unsinkables.

At one time, one of those businesses was his. When Oberbroeckling applied for a cabaret license seven years ago, the Unsinkables spoke out against it at a public hearing. Although the neighbors were unsuccessful, and Oberbroeckling hasn't had any run-ins with them since, he still resents them. He admits that he donates money to the organization, though, in an effort to keep the peace.

Anderson, who manages several apartment buildings in Capitol Hill but actually lives in Congress Park, insists that the group is representative of the neighborhood. "We try to invite everyone in. We hand out fliers on all of our walks," she says. "Racially, we do what we can. We don't collect dues; anyone who's on our e-mail list or comes to our meetings is considered a member."

And she says the Unsinkables do appreciate Capitol Hill's unusual blend of citizens: "The people who rent from me want that diversity, but they also want to feel like they can walk places safely. And they should be able to get out of their doorways without stepping over or removing people who are passed out. As one neighbor told me, 'I shouldn't have to see someone urinating in front of me.' I don't think that's a lot to ask. Colfax is Colfax and people love it, but that's not to say that people should settle for drug dealing and public drunkenness."

Lisa Calcamuggio helps a homeless man named Mike outside  Bonanza Liquors.
Anthony Camera
Lisa Calcamuggio helps a homeless man named Mike outside Bonanza Liquors.

8:20 p.m.,
13th Avenue and Pearl Street

"There's Charles. Quick, hide me," officer Goss says, stepping behind several of the neighbors and nodding across the street at a man in a purple hooded sweatshirt. Charles is walking south with two other men, and Goss is pretty sure he's looking to score.

The men pass without seeing Goss -- but she and her friend, Lisa Calcamuggio, an emergency medical technician who recently graduated from the police academy and often accompanies the Unsinkables, keep their eyes on them. When they reach the south end of Pearl, Charles and his companions turn around, notice Goss and start running. The two women take off after them. Goss radios for backup, and by the time they reach 13th, four other police officers have already caught and cuffed Charles and one of his buddies. Squinting against the bright lights of the two patrol cars, Charles tries to focus on Goss as she asks him some questions.

"Have you been smoking crack?" she inquires.

"No," he answers.

"You ever smoke crack?" Goss asks.

"Yes," he says.

"So you've stopped? You don't smoke it anymore?"

"Yes," he affirms.

"When's the last time you smoked crack?" she continues.

"Last week," he confesses.

"But you've stopped; you're not smoking crack anymore?" she asks, as another officer frisks him.

"Yes," says Charles, whose eyes are glazed and empty-looking.

"How long have you been smoking crack?" she pushes.

"Since the '90s," he says, turning to tell the other cop that he isn't carrying any crack pipes or weapons.

Charles is telling the truth about this. The officer who searched him instructs Charles to have a seat on the curb while the other cops question his friend.

The Unsinkables have finally caught up and formed a line behind Charles. After his buddy turns up clean and satisfies the officers' questions, the cops ask Charles where the third guy went, but he says he doesn't know.

The officers finally release Charles, who hurries down the sidewalk, away from the curious stares of passersby.

Hell hath no fury like pissed-off neighbors. When the Unsinkables are happy, they're a jolly lot, joking and laughing. But when they're mad -- watch out. They're organized and resourceful, persistent and thorough. They know how to make allies and present a unified front. So when it comes time to do battle, enemies be damned.

The liquor store at 1300 Pearl Street has been the source of the Unsinkables' wrath since the early 1990s, when it was known as Howerd Liquors. The owner had been cited more than once for selling to minors and intoxicated customers. The neighbors didn't appreciate the broken beer bottles that littered the surrounding sidewalks and felt that the shabby building was an eyesore. When the store's liquor license was nearing expiration in 1996, residents told the owner that they wouldn't oppose the renewal if he agreed to hire a security guard to patrol the premises, to refuse to sell to minors and drunks, to repaint the interior and exterior of the store and to pick up trash outside four days a week.

The owner consented and his license was renewed. For a while, things improved. But two months later, the new security guard was caught selling alcohol to a minor. The owner was fined and had to close the store for several days.

Three months after that, the store was cited again for the same thing. This time, the owner entered into an agreement with the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses to close his store for fifteen days and have his liquor license suspended for 36 days if he sold his business by January 8, 1997. If the business was not sold by then, the department decided, the owner would have to close his store for an additional nine days.

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