Studio Lites Will Move to Smaller Space in Denver, Reopen Las Vegas Store

Her Most Imperial Majesty Empress 43, Norrie Reynolds, gets styled by Chris Gradford.
Her Most Imperial Majesty Empress 43, Norrie Reynolds, gets styled by Chris Gradford.
Keith Garcia

One of Broadway’s longest-running businesses is packing up its wig boxes and high heels. Studio Lites, which caters to Denver’s burlesque and drag communities but is a treasure trove for anyone looking for a wig or some bling, will close its location at 333 Broadway by the end of the year, downsizing into a smaller space nearby.

The thirty-year-old Studio Lites — which spent a decade at the corner of Broadway and Ellsworth before settling into its current home for the past twenty years — is the well-coiffed baby of Chris Gradford and Rick Smith, who have been a couple for about as long their store has existed. Known for its vast inventory of wigs, shoes, jewelry and costumes in a large array of sizes, Studio Lites is the go-to spot for any man looking to feel pretty and any woman looking to feel even prettier. It’s been honored with three Best of Denver awards for its unique inventory and services.

But now the business is making some changes.

Chris Gradford with Empress 43, the White Tiger Empress of the Imperial Court of rhe Rocky Mountain Empire.
Chris Gradford with Empress 43, the White Tiger Empress of the Imperial Court of rhe Rocky Mountain Empire.
Keith Garcia

“Real estate in our city has certainly been on the rise lately," says Gradford, "and it made sense for us to downsize our Denver store and just move into the smaller location we’ve always had hidden behind the 7-Eleven, which is the same square footage of the main room of this store, so we won’t be missing too much.” That smaller location, at 25 West Third Avenue, has served as storage for Studio Lites; it will soon get a new coat of bright paint in anticipation of its switch to a retail spot.

This Studio Lites location will close at the end of this year.
This Studio Lites location will close at the end of this year.
Keith Garcia
Studio Lites will be open in this space in 2017.
Studio Lites will be open in this space in 2017.
Keith Garcia

“We’ll primarily be a wig store, and we’ll carry a little bit of fashion, jewelry, makeup and lingerie — and for our drag and cross-dressing community, we’ll have all the undergarments and breast forms. Otherwise, we’ll just be wig, wigs, wigs!” says Gradford, who also styles the wigs by appointment. Though catering to performers, Studio Lites also carries an impressive number for affordable hair pieces that are popular with cancer patients going through chemo treatments.

Just a few of Studio Lites' more natural wig selections.
Just a few of Studio Lites' more natural wig selections.
Keith Garcia

Even as Gradford and Smith are closing their larger Denver store, they're reopening the first Studio Lites store they had in Las Vegas years ago. “The Burlesque Hall of Fame is in Vegas and right around the corner from our store, which means that we’ll have access to even better wigs, costumes, etc., and dancers and queens can custom-order them from us, and we’ll have them at our new shop here within a week,” says Gradford.

The Studio Lites heel selection, which goes as high as size 18, is second to none.
The Studio Lites heel selection, which goes as high as size 18, is second to none.
Keith Garcia

But while the flagship store will be in Vegas, Studio Lites will never turn out the lights in Denver. "Denver has been our home for so long, and you can’t beat the community, customers and memories that we’ve had here for decades,” says Gradford. “In ten years, I think Studio Lites will still be around to dress a whole new generation of folks. I’ll probably just be sitting in a chair by the door, but I’ll still be here to say hello and have a good time.”

Co-owner Rick Smith wigs out with a model.
Co-owner Rick Smith wigs out with a model.
Keith Garcia
A few more colorful selections.
A few more colorful selections.
Keith Garcia
Two sets of breast forms, for the girl on the go.
Two sets of breast forms, for the girl on the go.
Keith Garcia
A small sampling of Studio Lites costumes and "club wear."
A small sampling of Studio Lites costumes and "club wear."
Keith Garcia
Stage-ready makeup and glitter for that extra sparkle.
Stage-ready makeup and glitter for that extra sparkle.
Keith Garcia
A few jewels and baubles for some of Denver's finest working girls.
A few jewels and baubles for some of Denver's finest working girls.
Keith Garcia

Right now, Studio Lites is stuffed with Halloween selections — this is one of the busiest and most profitable times of the year for the store — but once November 1 rolls around, that inventory will be shipped to Vegas and the store will begin a series of sales. Among the items that will be offered are mannequins, shelving and other utility pieces. Studio Lites is open for business at 333 Broadway; for more information, call 303-733-7797 or e-mail wigguys@aol.com.

I couldn't resist trying on a pair of size 13 heels. Ring ’em up!
I couldn't resist trying on a pair of size 13 heels. Ring ’em up!
Keith Garcia
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