"Funky" still lives on Santa Fe Drive. For instance, on the 700 block, a collective of potters, painters and photographers has banded together, bypassing middlemen, to sell their unique wares directly to the public at Artists on Santa Fe. Here you'll find Cristine Boyd's black-and-white animal-print ceramics, James Garnett's raku pottery and tree ornaments, Eric Abraham's rococo fantasy tableaus and flying giraffe or cow ornaments, and Janey Skeer's textured clay picture frames. Or you can place an order with Mary Dorf and Sarah Clark for a handpainted ceramic sink with matching tiles. At 725 Santa Fe, Zoots by Suavecito sells racy zoot suits and two-toned Stacey Adams shoes -- and if browsing stirs your appetite, this block is the place to stop and eat. Joe's Buffet displays the flashy underbelly of the neighborhood in full regalia, Panadera and Pastelera Santa Fe fattens folks on sugary pasties, El Noa Noa serves great fajitas and burritos de carne decebrada, and El Taco de México fries up some of the best carne asada tacos in town. And if you need some new pantalones vaqueros -- for a visit to Joe's Buffet, you just might -- they're sold, along with a variety of Mexican imports, just across Seventh Avenue, at Urbina's Miscelanea.
But look out: Though the struggling independent Denver Civic Theatre and a small number of grassroots galleries such as ILK (554 Santa Fe), the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council (772 Santa Fe) and R(evolucion)es Collective Art Space (a short walk away at 719 W. Eighth Ave.) still dictate the cultural mood of the stretch, Sandy Carson will soon resurrect her glossy LoDo gallery across the street from Artists on Santa Fe, joining another LoDo emigré, clothing designer Carol Mier, whose brand-new studio debuts this month on the same block.
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Those newcomers should provide a fine complement to other small retailers on Santa Fe. On the 800 block, there's Concinno Home, the cozy workshop of wholesale pillow manufacturer Anne Sannes, who says she opened the tiny storefront to sell luxurious leftovers -- end cuts of the fabrics she uses for finished product you'll see this season at Neiman Marcus and other upscale venues. Rolls of gauzy floral-print linens, silk brocades, leopard prints and burnout velvets jut into the air everywhere, and Sannes says she'll occasionally make pillows to order from the fabrics if they're sized to match what she's working on. And you'll drool at what she's working on: cushions, tree skirts and Christmas stockings of feathers and velvet, and lavish bolsters of fabric hand-beaded in Pakistan. Though Sannes mostly concentrates on the wholesale end of her business, as a retailer she enjoys the homey feel of the block: "It's a real community," she says. "We're all small entrepreneurs who work on this street."
That's something you can feel in the air. Next door, partners Tom Bruton and Steve Nations, importers specializing in teak furniture from Bali, have run their shop, Toemi, for just over a year. Bruton says opening Toemi was just a matter of recognizing an opportunity in the raw while vacationing in the island paradise. "I saw that peanut bench," he says, pointing to a delightfully curvy, slatted example, "and I said to myself, 'That's the prettiest bench I've ever seen.'" Now the two go to Indonesia five times a year, with moisture meters in hand to ensure that they never ship back anything so moist it will explode on contact with Denver's arid climate. "We go over and cherry-pick the islands," Bruton notes, adding proudly that he more than undersells the same kind of merchandise found at Smith & Hawken. "So they offer a lifetime guarantee?" he asks. "At this price, you can own three of them in a lifetime."
But nowhere on the strip is the wet-under-the-wings scent of blossoming entrepreneurship more evident than at the Old Curiosity Shop, at 560 Santa Fe, next door to Ruins/SMS Studios. The shop was opened only recently by David Mejia, a transplant from downtown Littleton. Mejia got into the antiques business the way one supposes a lot of dealers do: He and his wife bought some furniture that was too big for their house, so they decided to sell it again. "Now I'm just addicted to buying and selling -- I can't get enough if it," says the soft-spoken ex-teacher, who gave up that profession after suffering a heart attack. His passion shines through in an eclectic selection that ranges from one of the largest collections of Noritake Azalea pattern china around (the pattern, circa 1910 through the early '40s, is one of the ten most-collected in the nation) to a handful of metallic beaded sweaters, a lovely hand-stitched Dresden Plate quilt and a small stand of wooden Japanese dolls amassed on the counter. The new shop is still a work in progress, with a cheerful apron collection hanging in the window and a ton of unfinished square footage still being carved out in back, but Mejia says he likes to work on stuff. In the meantime, his doors are open: "I'm just pleased as a pickle to be here," he says. And you just know he means it.