American Ace

Crown went to auction, and now all that's left of Russell Enloe are the memories.

But the jeans craze didn't last. "When that really started crapping out in the late '90s, he was always trying to regroup to find a new way to approach the business," Les says. In 1999, Enloe opened Crown Mercantile, which featured kitsch furniture and accoutrements that matched his personality. In 2004, he closed Aces and moved the store's clothes into the back room at Crown. "I think he just floundered after that," Les says.

This past March, Enloe talked to Westword about struggling to afford his rent, which had risen from $900 to $2,400 a month. "I'm in a real catch here, 'cause I just got over a serious injury, so physically, I'm not able to move," he said. "Financially, I'm not able to move. I've only got myself established here after six years, so I don't want to go anywhere. I've never been in a situation like this before. Business is tough."

By May, Enloe also realized he might lose his house, but at the time, no one knew things had gotten that bad. "He would never burden any of us with that," Joan Cooper says.

Russell Enloe just months before his death.
Jim J. Narcy
Russell Enloe just months before his death.
Russell Enloe was everyone's good-time guy.
Russell Enloe was everyone's good-time guy.

At Crown, Phil Snyder and Kim Danner had gotten used to constantly fielding calls from creditors. The last time Phil saw Enloe was on a particularly bad day: A woman they'd bounced a check to kept calling, saying she was going to sue. Enloe had come into the store that Monday, May 22, and picked up a stack of bills from vendors, saying that he was going to send letters apologizing. The previous week he'd told Snyder that he was closing Crown at the end of June.

On Wednesday, May 24, Snyder and Danner heard that Enloe had disappeared, and the two decided they weren't going to run the store anymore; they felt like they were enabling him, and they'd been through it too many times. When the call came the following morning that Enloe had been found dead in his car, Snyder was not surprised.

Enloe's death -- attributed to acute cocaine intoxication, according to the Arapahoe County Coroner's Office -- wasn't a surprise to Joan Cooper, either. She had broken down in sobs on Wednesday night when she heard Enloe had gone missing: "I knew he would turn up dead. I knew it. I knew with the scope of his problems and his past issues with drugs that he was not going to make it out of it. I had to figure out how to explain to my daughters what happened to their favorite uncle. He was like an uncle to them."

At the auction, excited bargain seekers were interspersed with Enloe's somber friends. There were whole shelves of dolls and toys selling for as little as $10. The phone and credit-card machine went for $110, and the glass display case in front of the checkout counter -- a vintage piece labeled "Pen Department" across the top -- received the highest bid, $700.

Nearly two hours into the bidding, the auctioneer was pulled away by one of his co-workers. When he came back, he said he was moving on to the larger items and signs because they weren't nearing the bulk bid. If they couldn't up the ante quickly, he would call the auction off.

"Okay, now I'm getting a little nervous," Tait said.

It was only moments later that the auctioneer stopped again.

"I just don't think we're going to raise enough money to hit the bulk bid," he said. The total was $14,000 short of the $21,000 mark.

Everything would go to Decade. That is, everything Tait couldn't get the lingering bidders to pay cash for before they left.

While Tait borrowed a cell phone to let her credit-card company know she was about to make a $21,000 charge, Cynthia and Ron Wright lingered at the back of the store, making plans to buy some mannequins and fixtures for Boss Unlimited. The Wrights had given Enloe his start as a buyer years before he opened American Aces, and later became his competitors when they opened their shop on South Broadway. Cynthia's eyes welled with tears as she looked around the store for what would be the last time. A week before he died, Enloe had asked her if he could work for them again, heading out on road trips to hunt for vintage finds as he once had.

"Closing down the store was shutting down a piece of Russell," says Brian Blakeney, one of Enloe's oldest friends. "Thinking about closing felt like such a personal failure to him. It just got to be too much. He wanted to be a picker again."

In a way, Joan Cooper thinks it's fitting that Enloe died young, since he never played by anybody's rules but his own. The coroner classified Enloe's death an accident, and that's what the Coopers believe it was. "I'm not a street-corner preacher, but he and I had talked about God," Les says. "He believed in God, and I know he wouldn't knowingly commit suicide."

"I think he was probably self-medicating and trying to erase pain and worry," Joan adds. "I don't think anyone can stand in his shoes and understand the pressure that guy was feeling."

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