Once upon a not-so-distant time in Denver, when Highland was still known as the Northside, a man named Marshall ran a resale Levi's store called Northside Jeans & Gold.
If you've been in the city for any amount of time and traveled west along 38th Avenue, you can't miss the joint: Its hand-painted sign is emblazoned with a curly-corded punch-dial phone and an equally charming and ancient phone number (remember way back when Denver only had the 303 prefix, so shops could just list seven digits?). But now, after more than twenty years at the corner of 38th and Lowell, the doors are closing and everything must go: racks of jeans, signs from the walls and a random assortment of goods and trinkets pulled out of the back room.
A man named "John" bought the store from Marshall almost ten years ago. When I ask John for his full name, he explains in a pleasant Polish accent that I wouldn't know how to spell it right, so to just call him John. From behind his counter and between pulls from a cigarette, John shares that his last day in this rented space will be November 15, but the shop could be gone before then.
And how did John get into the denim resale business in the first place? "I'm an honest man, so whatever I tell you, you can believe it or not," he says. As the story goes, he saw an ad in the paper for "Northside Jean & Gold" and was curious. So he came down to the shop, and Marshall had him fill the register with his own money. Working side-by-side for a month, Marshall showed John how the shop worked. John liked it, so he bought it.
John shares that he came to the U.S. in the '80s, via California -- where, John warns, I don't want to go. He lived in Los Angeles and says the Sunset Strip was full of hookers, but Santa Monica Boulevard was were the "women who were not women" hookers worked. All of this is a roundabout answer to my question regarding where he's from originally -- something I only find out after he quizzes me, at length.
I tell him I'm no good at guessing accents and know nothing about geography but still, John poses question after question. Finally, using a screwdriver, he points to a panorama of a beautiful riverside city tacked to the store's wall, and shows me the exact building he was born in. He then tells me that Chopin was also born there, and so was Nobel Prize-winning chemist Marie Skłodowska-Curie. Copernicus and the previous Pope are also from this country.
Keeping a smile but clearly exhausted by my miseducation, John finally says, "I'm from Toruń, Poland."
With the geography quiz over, we dive back into talking about the store. Once banking on the height of the Levi's 501 craze -- when authentic denim from the once-top purveyor of fashion and function jeans could get top dollar -- Northside Jeans & Gold has since seen a decline in sales. As of late, John says the majority of his customers are garage-sale thrifters looking to make a small profit on the buy and sell. But it's clear from the stock of jeans that remains that not much has been selling lately.
John's view is hardly pessimistic, though; he seems to be welcoming the transition to liquidation. Until recently, the store was on a month-to-month lease, but after the entire building was purchased, no such agreement was offered by the new landlords. There's no bad blood, however; John says the owners have shown him some other properties they have rehabbed, and he has hope for the commercial strip he's been keeping watch over for the last decade.
Though the kitschy familiarity of West 38th Avenue is slowly fading (just a few blocks down, the iconic, decades-old "The one who cares... calls Lehrer's" sign on the spot now occupied by Salvagetti has become a beautiful bicycle logo), that doesn't bother John.
"Life is progress -- we have to go forward all the time," he says. "I like the idea of seeing young professional couples walking around here."
A sign of the times, indeed.
If you're looking for a nice pair of vintage denim, head over to Northside Jeans & Gold, 3559 West 38th Avenue, and make an offer. Or just take a moment to chat with the store's owner -- John's a hell of a guy.
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